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Imagine having to spend your life always making sure there’s a restroom nearby. For some, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a mild annoyance, while for others, it is a disabling condition, inciting an astonishing amount of discomfort and distress. Symptoms can vary and include constipation, diarrhea, mucus with bowel movements, abdominal pain and cramping, and/or fruitless urges to move the bowels. Certain dietary culprits, including chocolate, dairy products, fatty foods, alcohol, and caffeine, can worsen symptoms.
Bring in the Bugs
Acidophilus and several related microbes, known collectively as probiotics, not only aid digestion, but also reduce the presence of negative organisms by competing with them for space within the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have shown that probiotic treatment can improve symptoms of IBS. Other research has focused on specific strains, with one review noting that “there is growing evidence that B. infantis is becoming the frontrunner for treatment of IBS.”
Dosages of probiotics are expressed in billions of organisms, with a typical daily dose supplying about 3 billion to 5 billion of the various live organisms. Good probiotic formulas should be refrigerated and have a strain designation (e.g., L. acidophilus DDS-1 ). Look for a refrigerated, powdered formula, and try taking 2 Tbs. per day mixed with water or juice for 10 days.
Do the Bulk of the Work
The common bulk fiber laxative psyllium seed relieves IBS-related diarrhea and pain. Psyllium’s absorption capabilities make it useful for treating diarrhea, a common IBS symptom. As it travels through the gut, the mucilage in psyllium absorbs excess fluids and soothes cramping. One research review noted that, “Long-chain, intermediate viscous, soluble, and moderately fermentable dietary fiber (e.g., psyllium) has documented affects in the management of IBS, and can improve the overall symptoms of patients with IBS.” Another study showed that supplementing with psyllium could reduce gas and bloating in patients with IBS.
Look for a powdered psyllium-seed supplement, and try 15–20 grams per day (about 1 Tbs.). You may want to start with a small amount, such as 5 g once daily, and gradually increase the dose. People often experience changes in bowel function or gas for the first two or three weeks of using fiber. Also, do not take fiber products at the same time as other supplements or medications—fiber keeps them from being properly absorbed.
Think Minty Fresh
Peppermint oil relaxes the muscles of the intestinal wall, calming cramps. The enteric coating of peppermint oil capsules postpones the effect until the remedy is further along the digestive tract, as well as lessening peppermint-tasting burps. Studies have shown that peppermint oil in enteric-coated capsules can symptoms in four out of five IBS patients. Try taking 1–2 capsules three times daily.