Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common yet controversial condition with no single agreed cause. Many believe that it is used as an ‘umbrella term’ or catch all diagnosis by doctors when no other cause for symptoms has been found. However, while many and varied, the symptoms are real and the official diagnosis can be useful when the recommended treatments are tried. In cases where they are not, the patient often turns to natural medicine, where quite different explanations are given as to why the patient is suffering, giving rise to a whole host of alternative treatment options.
The exact cause is not known and this is why so many theories abound. However, we do know many of the triggers for the condition which can give rise to symptoms including constipation, diarrhea, bloating and painful cramps to name just a few. Some proposed causes include; a dysfunction of the peristaltic action (relaxation and contraction of muscles) of the digestive tract, infection and even emotional issues. If one looks further than the conventional medical community for an explanation, towards alternative practitioners, a far wider range of explanations are given, from candida overgrowth to parasites to chronic constipation.
Just as the causes of the syndrome vary depending upon whom is asked, so do the proposed treatment options. Your medical doctor may offer peppermint capsules, additional fiber or specialized medicines to dispel gas and therefore alleviate some of the pain and discomfort that can go along with this syndrome. They may also offer medicines to reduce cramping which is well worth considering if you suffer from cramps. A natural doctor may also offer fiber although different brands may be suggested with slightly different properties and they may offer peppermint capsules as well, though they tend to utilize a much greater range of herbs depending upon what is uncovered during the patient practitioner consultation.
Thankfully, there are a couple of strategies which cross the whole spectrum and are recommended by nearly everybody, since the evidence is so good that they work. The first is to keep a ‘food diary’. This involves keeping track of what you have eaten from day to day, along with your symptoms. After a week or two it should be very clear if any foods are contributing to your symptoms. Once any offending trigger foods have been identified, it is a simple matter of removing them one by one from the diet to relieve symptoms, while ensuring that any essential nutrients are replaced in the diet. The second recommendation is to take a probiotic supplement. This is known to give relief to many IBS sufferers. In addition, it is worth trying a range of other herbs and medicines, since everyone is different you won’t know what may give relief until you try.
Many patients do experience partial and even complete relief in response to the recommended treatments. So, while IBS is a frustrating diagnosis for many, for others, having a name for the condition can be a first and crucial step on the road to recovery.
By Sam Young