Suffer from irritable bowel syndrome? Here’s a GP’s tips to help you cope with your symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common condition affecting the bowels, with around 1 in 5 people in the UK affected at any one time.
Although IBS symptoms vary widely from person to person, the commonest ones include abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, excessive wind, and altered bowel habits, including constipation and diarrhoea. Symptoms are often (not always) worse with stress.
The exact cause of IBS is unclear, and it can affect people of any age and of both sexes.
Although many people need to take medication in some form to help reduce their symptoms there are a number of things that you can do with lifestyle choices which often help considerably.
5 best home remedies for IBS
Here, Dr Roger Henderson looks at the top 5 here:
- Manage your stress
If you find that anxiety is causing you significant problems, talk to your doctor about being referred for behavioural therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which can be very effective in reducing stress and anxiety.
- Watch what you eat and drink
In many people with IBS, making some simple changes to their diet can make all the difference to their symptoms.
You may need to spend some time experimenting here. Keeping a diary of what you eat and drink – along with your symptoms – can help you eliminate foods that make your IBS worse.
In general, many people with the problem find that eating regular meals helps, along with cutting out caffeine and fizzy drinks.
Some people also find that going onto a low-FODMAP diet (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) can also be of benefit, and this is likely to be due to the impact of reducing or cutting out carbohydrates that the gut finds hard to digest.
Examples of low-FODMAP foods include:
High-FODMAP foods include:
- rye products.
- Exercise regularly
We all know that exercise is good for the heart and lungs, but it is also one of the best ways of improving our overall feeling of wellbeing, as well as reducing anxiety and depression, and aiding restful sleep.
You do not have to train like an Olympic athlete to reap the benefits either – simply walking briskly, enough to make you slightly out of breath, for about 30 minutes a day will help to get you fitter.
Exercise helps to reduce the chances of constipation occurring by speeding up the passage of food through the gut, and so if you are someone whose IBS can cause constipation this can be very helpful.
If you tend to get diarrhoea with IBS, you should build up your exercise levels gradually.
- Consider taking probiotics
There’s some evidence that probiotics may be helpful in some cases of IBS, and they work by helping to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut. They only work for some people, however, and because they are generally classed as food rather than medicine they don’t go through the rigorous testing that medicines do.
The most effective probiotics for IBS seem to be those containing Bifidobacterium infantis and other strains of bifida bacteria, whereas some other common probiotic strains – such as acidophilus and lactobilli – have been shown to be less effective in the treatment of symptoms, although they may still help in some people. Use a form that is easy to take – there are yoghurts containing probiotics that you can buy in supermarkets, as well as concentrated probiotic supplements, such as small drinks like Actimel or Yakult.
When taking a probiotic for the first time, use it regularly for 3-4 weeks to see if it helps your symptoms. If it does, carry on but if it doesn’t then try a different strain of product before stopping them completely.
- Try taking peppermint oil
There are a number of studies which have shown that taking peppermint oil regularly can help with common IBS symptoms such as pain, bloating and gas. It is not exactly clear why it should work in IBS but is likely to be due to the fact that the nerves in the bowels of IBS sufferers appear to be very sensitive, but the menthol contained in peppermint oil appears to reduce this as well as relaxing the gut muscles.
Some people prefer to take capsules (always take enteric-coated capsules as this coating stops stomach acid dissolving them and so they only dissolve when they get to the intestines) whereas others find peppermint tea helpful.
If you use antacids, don’t take them at the same time as peppermint oil as this can make it worse, and if you have gallstones, a hiatus hernia or severe acid reflux speak to your doctor before taking it.