IBS is a chronic digestive disorder characterized by changes in bowel movements and pain in the abdomen. The symptoms can be recurring and may differ from person to person. IBS can affect anyone, but it's most common in women1. Doctors diagnose IBS if you experience frequent digestive issues for at least three to six months.
Common IBS symptoms include:
- Changes in regular bowel movements (either constipation or diarrhea or both)
- Nausea, acid reflux (heartburn)
- Loss of appetite or feeling too full
- Gas and burping
- Abdominal pain
- Change in the appearance of stools (color, texture)
- Trouble sleeping
- Lower back pain
- Frequent need to urinate
- Anxiety or depression
What causes IBS?
IBS still isn't well understood, but it often occurs in conjunction with:
- Chronic stress
- Hormonal changes
- Food sensitivity or allergies
- Alterations in gut flora
- Inflammation of the digestive tract
Although we don't know what causes IBS, we can understand what triggers the symptoms and learn to avoid them.
Natural ways to bring IBS under control:
Avoid inflammation-triggering foods: Processed foods, refined foods, and high sugar intake can often trigger inflammation in the digestive tract. Inflammation can damage the delicate lining of the digestive tract, which can deteriorate the regular activity of the digestive system.
Avoid trigger foods: Many people with IBS symptoms find that they are sensitive to particular foods. Foods such as wheat, dairy, citrus, fried and fatty foods, artificial sweeteners, spicy foods, sausage, red meat, beans, and legumes are common triggers for IBS symptoms.
Exercise regularly: Studies show a regular exercise routine can ease IBS symptoms2. Exercise also lowers stress and improves bowel movements. Consistency is key, so take up an activity that you enjoy and that's easy to keep up with, such as swimming, tennis, or walking.
Encourage healthy gut flora: You can do this by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are high in fiber. The non-digestible starches in these plants provide food for your friendly gut bacteria to grow and thrive. Fermented or cultured foods are also a good source of live, friendly bacteria.
Manage stress levels: Studies show that stress can worsen IBS symptoms3. Practice relaxing activities such as nature walks, meditation, or a hobby that helps you relax. Herbal adaptogens such as ashwagandha can also help you manage your stress levels.