A Natural Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment Plan That's Easy and Effective

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Filed Under: Digestive Health, IBS
Last Reviewed 04/17/2014

A Natural Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment Plan That's Easy and Effective

Try my all-natural approach to relieving irritable bowel syndrome symptoms

To eliminate any or all of your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms it's imperative to have a robust and healthy colonization of beneficial probiotic bacteria in your bowel. Here is my all-natural program for establishing the optimal bowel environment to combat irritable bowel syndrome.

STEP 1: Get Relief From Fermented Foods and Probiotics

The first step for dealing with irritable bowel syndrome is to add fermented food and/or a probiotic supplement to your daily regimen. Research and clinical work has shown that anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of those who make this change will notice a significant difference in their irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

Probiotics are live micro-organisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit to the host by engaging and neutralizing toxic compounds. While commercial supplements are the first thought that comes to mind when you mention probiotics, naturally fermented, "live" foods have been around since the beginning of mankind. Fermented vegetables, fermented milk products (clabber, yogurt, cheese, buttermilk), kefir, fermented soy products (natto, miso, tempeh, soy sauce, fermented tofu), and even naturally fermented, unpasteurized beers are some of the most complete probiotics available, literally bursting with the beneficial bacteria that promote optimal bowel health. I highly recommend you include foods like these regularly in your irritable bowel syndrome diet.

My favorite fermented food (besides unpasteurized beer, of course) is homemade sauerkraut. I keep a fresh batch going almost constantly, and some already made in the fridge at all times. It provides one of the widest varieties of beneficial bacteria that are known to protect against all kinds of digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome.

During those times when you're not home or don't have access to homemade sauerkraut or other fermented foods, I recommend the use of a commercial probiotic product. Look for one that can maintain viability without refrigeration, available in health food stores and online.

If, for some reason, you can't add any of the fermented foods I've mentioned to your irritable bowel syndrome diet, I would recommend trying Lactic Acid Yeast Wafers from Standard Process Laboratories. A couple of wafers with each meal will start to work wonders at re-establishing the beneficial bacteria in your bowel. The product is generally sold only through doctors, so you’ll have to check for someone who handles the product in your area (chiropractors are a good source)—or you can search the Internet for suppliers.

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STEP 2: Focus on Fiber

When probiotics don't do the trick on their own, you need to get more strict with your diet—specifically your fiber intake. While an irritable bowel syndrome treatment plan should include adding fiber to the diet, two very important factors must be taken into consideration.

First, some types of fiber should be avoided. Irritable bowel syndrome patients are often sensitive or allergic to certain types of food. Wheat and other grain products are typically on that list. As such, wheat bran and other cereals are generally not the best source of fiber in these cases. Instead, water-soluble fibers that promote the formation of protective gel and mucus in the bowel are best. This type of fiber is found in guar gum, psyllium or Indian husks, oat bran, flaxseeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans and peas).

Keep in mind that most of these fiber sources are either absorbents or binding agents, which means that they absorb or bind with water. This causes them to soften and swell, creating the extra bulk necessary to gently stimulate the cleansing movement in the colon. For the whole process to work, you must consume adequate amounts of water. This means that it’s absolutely necessary to drink a minimum of eight glasses of water a day. 

The second factor to remember when adding fiber to your diet is that although increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables is essential in an irritable bowel syndrome treatment plan, during periods of diarrhea these foods are best avoided. But they should be reintroduced gradually when the bowels are normal. The amounts and timing will vary from individual to individual. The same holds true for the amount of guar gum or psyllium that needs to be taken. It would be impossible for me to give the exact amount needed. You will need to monitor bowel consistency and looseness and adjust the dosages accordingly.

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Avoid Certain Foods

In your irritable bowel syndrome diet, you may need to cut back on your intake of several types of foods—or even cut them out completely. Sugar and highly concentrated sugar-containing products like fruit juices need to be eliminated. Irritable bowel syndrome patients need to avoid alcoholic beverages. And the acidity and nature of tomatoes and tomato products will irritate a sensitive bowel and should be avoided.

Consumption of salt water fish and those from lakes contaminated from acid rain should be minimized or completely avoided. This caution also applies to canned tuna, unless you know it’s low in mercury. Although most individuals will experience no such problems, German research has found that the mercury often contained in these fish is one of the main triggers for irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

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Eliminate Your Problem

In some severe cases of irritable bowel syndrome, you may need to go on a limited elimination-type diet for two weeks or so. First, restrict your diet to chicken, lamb, potatoes, rice, and fruits. Then gradually add other foods one at a time back into your irritable bowel syndrome diet to determine which foods are contributing to the problem.

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Go Beyond the Diet Basics

If simply eliminating certain foods from your diet doesn’t help your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, the next step is more involved, and could be referred to as the "weed and feed" program. The idea is to first cleanse the bowels of any harmful or large numbers of undesirable bacteria, fungi, yeast, and parasites; heal any damage that has taken place; and then re-establish a healthy population of beneficial bacteria. Learn more about this two-week irritable bowel syndrome treatment diet that begins with a 24-hour fast.

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Enlist Nutritional Help

In order to help heal any irritable bowel syndrome damage to the mucosal lining of the bowels, I suggest using either slippery elm powder or a product called Sialex. Slippery elm powder is a favorite topical remedy of Native Americans for wounds, burns, and boils. It can also be used internally for ulcers and to soothe an irritated intestinal system. Slippery elm is very safe, and it’s actually a very nutritious product—particularly for debilitated individuals and babies. You can purchase slippery elm in bulk or in capsules at most health food stores.

A slippery elm drink can be made by adding a heaping teaspoon of the powder to a little cold water to make a paste, and then pouring on a cup of boiling water while constantly stirring the mixture. Let it cool and then drink it, three times a day. For a slight variation you can use boiling milk instead of water and flavor the mixture with cinnamon or nutmeg. If you opt for slippery elm capsules, I suggest taking 2 (400 or 500 mg each) three or four times daily.

The alternative to slippery elm for treating irritable bowel syndrome is a product called Sialex from Ecological Formulas. It contains an extract of mucin (the main component of mucus) that re-establishes the protective mucus layer in the bowel and provides a lubricating action. You shouldn't need Sialex if you use slippery elm, but I wanted you to know about it because it is helpful in healing the most stubborn cases of irritable bowel syndrome, particularly where ulcerations in the stomach and small intestine occur. The recommended dosage is 1 to 3 capsules with meals. It can be purchased online from www.Netriceuticals.com.

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Try Peppermint Oil and Honey

Both peppermint oil and honey have lots of therapeutic uses. One of the best I've seen for peppermint oil is treating the colon spasms associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Several research studies, mostly from Germany, have repeatedly found that enteric-coated peppermint/caraway oil preparations can relax the smooth muscle in the colon and relieve irritable bowel syndrome spasms. Enteric coating is a slow-dissolving covering that keeps the oils from being released in the stomach. To be effective, the oils must reach the colon. If released in the stomach, the oils may cause heartburn and acid reflux.

Enzymatic Therapy sells a softgel product called Peppermint Plus. It's available at many health food stores or from many of the discount mail-order firms. If you can't find a source, you can call the company at 800-558-7372, and they can help you locate a store in your area. When you obtain the product, just follow the instructions on the label.

Rarely, some individuals using peppermint oil products experience a temporary burning sensation in the rectal area upon defecation. If this occurs, simply reduce the dosage. The menthol in the peppermint oil causes the burning sensation.

As far as honey is concerned, researchers at the Chandigarh Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research have discovered that eating regular doses of manuka honey can help in cases of irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. They induced the digestive ailments in experimental rats, then fed the animals manuka honey. At examination, the rats that received the honey showed greatly reduced levels of inflammation in the bowel, and improved values for cell changes and antioxidant levels.

The dose used in the studies was 5 grams per kilogram of body weight daily. (The rats didn't weigh a kilogram, though.) For a 100-pound person this would work out to about half a pound of manuka honey a day, obviously a huge (and costly) amount for a person to be consuming regularly. I would suggest starting with a much smaller amount, a teaspoon a day, to see what effect the honey has on your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. You can increase the amount if needed.

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More Dr. Williams Advice on Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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