Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Dr. Henry Cheng
If you have frequent abdominal cramps, a lot of gas, on and off diarrhea at times alternating with constipation, feeling stressed out but experience no marked weight loss or profound tiredness, you may have IBS. IBS should not be mistakened as IBD. IBS is Irritable Bowel Syndrome while IBD is Inflammatory Bowel Disease referring to Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. As the name “syndrome” implies, IBS is not a disease entity. It is a group of symptoms and signs caused by oversensitivity of the intestinal mucosa leading to irregular contraction. In a normal subject, bowel contents are being driven along by coordinated serial contractions called peristaltic waves. In IBS, the overly responsive mucosa causes massive contraction of bowel segments giving rise to stomachache and cramps. Excessive large bowel contractions cause diarrhea. Interestingly constipation can also be a symptom of IBS. When the bowel contraction and relaxation pattern is lost bowel content can no longer be effective driven along, resulting in constipation. An abnormal bowel environment creates excessive gas. IBS happens more often in anxious personalities and is definitely related to stress. Food allergies have been implicated in many cases. Because IBS is a functional abnormality, IBS seldom causes bleeding, weight loss and malaise. If there is blood or significant constitutional symptoms then there may be structural damages to the bowel, in which case you may be IBD (Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease). IBS is a nuisance whereas IBD is a life threatening condition.
Top priority in managing IBS is to relax the smooth muscle of the bowel. The oils of certain plants notable Chamomile, peppermint, and lavender had been found to relax smooth muscles when taken internally. Mixtures of these oils like Intesol (Metagenics) and Peppermint Plus (Nature Way) work even better than when used alone. Normal contraction of the bowel can be regulated and restored with a homeopathic mixture called GI Mix which is for stress related gastro-intestinal upset. If colic and cramps still exist after taking the above then Spasm Complex will be needed to enhance the anti-spasmodic effects.
Normal bowel environment needs to be restored with probiotics. Yogurt is not good enough. Take an acid-resistant preparation so the probiotics can survive the stomach acid to reach the lower bowel. As well, the appropriate species of organisms need to be specific to the appropriate segment of the GI tract. Products like Ultra Flora Plus by Metagenics or IBS Urgency by New Roots Herbals would be good choices.
Enzymes break down allergenic proteins into innocent molecules and help to alleviate gas. One very effective enzyme preparation is called Gluten Defense (Enzymatic). A homeopathic complex called HomeoGas contains ingredients including carbo veg. (charcoal) that helps to eliminate gas.
Some modification of your lifestyle can bring a lot of benefits to your IBS. Try to eat small frequent meals so you do not provoke massive colon contraction through the gastro-colic reflex. Avoid foods that might irritate the intestinal mucosa like hot spicy foods, icy cold drinks, alcohol, strong coffee and teas. Many of my patients found milk and dairy products very bad for them. You need to exercise on a regular basis, sleep well, and manage your stress. Those that have food allergies should take a supplement to facilitate the repair of the bowel mucosa, such as Gastro Ease Plus, RR Formula, L-Glutamine, and Perma-Clear. Most IBS patients would need an annual detoxification program and many will need some form of immune modulation.
Henry Cheng is a medical graduate of the University of London, England, and is now a Certified Natural Products Advisor at Pharmasave Downtown Cloverdale.