Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Natural remedies and alternative treatments

Naturopath Katie Jean Boulton looks at the symptoms and assists us with the alternatives in treating this debilitating condition.

It’s no wonder that with our modern diets – filled with hidden additives, pesticides and artificial fillers – that food intolerances and digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are on the rise. 


If bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal aches and pains exist in your day-to-day life, then you could quite possibly be experiencing symptoms of IBS. It is a very broad condition, with symptoms fluctuating between uncomfortable to unbearable pain. Some people’s bowel motions can be extremely loose and watery like diarrhoea and others can experience severe constipation. It would be fair to say that it’s an extremely difficult condition to diagnose, as many diseases can present themselves with very similar, if not the same, symptoms.

If any of the above symptoms persist, then it is important to assess your diet and ask yourself: Am I consuming too much fat? Am I eating clean foods and buying fresh produce? Are my meals balanced with lean protein, essential fats, and complex carbohydrates? Am I eating enough green leafy vegetables and natural fibre? And how many litres of water am I drinking daily? Certain food intolerances and long-term stress can exacerbate the condition, and acknowledging how the body reacts to eating dairy, gluten, fructose or sugar will be the first step in eliminating the cause of the symptoms. These are all very basic but key questions you need to seriously ask yourself if you are to treat IBS.

Long-term effects

IBS can be very discomforting in our day-to-day life, but in the long term it can actually be quite harmful and has been shown to lead to other conditions such as leaky gut syndrome (LGS) – a condition that also exacerbates other illnesses 
– even arthritis.

Long term IBS may severely compromise the health of the gut wall, where it is essential to have a healthy balance of good bacteria. This good bacterium is pertinent to having a strong immune system, and when bad bacteria out numbers the good, all sorts of problems can arise, along with the many symptoms mentioned here. Disturbance to the integrity of the gut wall can eventually cause food particles, fungi, moulds, yeast and other toxins to pass through and enter the bloodstream. This is known as leaky gut syndrome.

Toxins don’t belong in your blood stream and the body reacts by firing up the immune system’s inflammatory response. This excessive bodily inflammation may cause irritation and the development of many other conditions. Who would have ever thought that arthritic pain in your knee could have possibly started by the health of your digestive tract?
If you are experiencing any digestive discomfort, it is essential to consult your health care practitioner. A naturopath can be extremely helpful for symptomatic and a long-term treatment plan, alongside a nutritionist to help ensure you’re on the right track with a structured, healthy diet.

Treating IBS the natural way
Stress management techniques are a very important factor in the treatment of IBS. As hard as stress may be to completely alleviate, there are actions you can include in your daily lifestyle to ensure you’re coping to the best of your ability.

Something as simple as regular exercise is an easy and effective way of reducing stress. It’s been proven to control cortisol production and help reduce excess adrenaline. Not only will you physically benefit from regular exercise, but also mentally. Simply make time to incorporate walking, yoga, Pilates and meditation to help the body relax into the healing process.

There are also many natural remedies you can try in the comfort of your own home to help manage uncomfortable symptoms as they persist. Here are a few:

Slippery elm 

The powder of slippery elm is derived from the inner bark of the elm tree, native to North America. Slippery elm powder can be bought from your local health food store generally in the food section, or even in capsules from the shelf.

The powder is faster acting and can be easily prepared mixing a teaspoon or two into a glass of water for drinking.
Slippery elm is thought to contain components known as mucilages, which help line the gut wall and sooth inflammation, and provide almost instant relief. This soothing component is what has the ability to soften a constipated stool as well as soaking up excess water in diarrhoea, providing a bulking effect to the stool.

Peppermint oil
Relief can be found from simply burning or smelling this essential oil. Peppermint oil has been shown to greatly assist with the relief of gut spasm and cramping. Numerous studies have found that peppermint oil can be just as effective as prescription antispasmodics. Peppermint tea can also be drunk and helps with digestion and can alleviate IBS symptoms.

Aloe vera
This common household plant can be bought in a gel or juice from your local health food store. Aloe vera is very healing to the gastrointestinal tract and can also be used as herbal laxative. It has strong anti-inflammatory properties that can help decrease stomach bloating.

Aloe vera has a double-whammy effect in both helping to kill off any internal yeast infection or candida, which can often cause IBS symptoms and is also a prebiotic – meaning it creates a healthy environment for good bacteria to flourish and thus strengthen the immune system. 

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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