There are five key categories of treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, an enteric nervous system disorder characterized by abdominal pain in association with constipation, diarrhea, or alternating bowel dysmotility. IBS is also known as spastic bowel, spastic colon, and spastic colitis.
The most successful treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome are natural; there are many remedies for significantly alleviating or preventing all IBS symptoms. To date, gut-directed IBS hypnosis is the only treatment researchers have called a cure for the brain-gut dysfunction that underlies IBS.
Diet plays a direct role in gut function (something that is instinctively obvious to IBS sufferers). There is in fact a proper "IBS diet", as IBS is not so highly individualized that no accurate generalizations can be made, and dietary changes can make a tremendous improvement to all IBS symptoms.
There are very clear dietary guidelines to follow for how to eat safely for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, based on the well-established effects certain categories of foods have on the GI tract. The key word here is categories. Any food that is high in fat, insoluble fiber, caffeine, coffee (even decaf), carbonation, or alcohol is problematic. All of these food categories are either GI stimulants or irritants, and can cause violent reactions of the gastrocolic reflex. This directly affects the muscles in the colon and can lead to pain, constipation AND diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
Soluble fiber is the single greatest dietary remedy for preventing Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, as well as relieving them once they occur. Soluble fiber is not typically found in foods most people think of as "fiber," such as bran or raw leafy green vegetables (these foods are high in insoluble fiber, a dietary trigger). Soluble fiber is actually found in foods commonly thought of as "starches", though soluble fiber itself differs from starch as the chemical bonds that join its individual sugar units cannot be digested by enzymes in the human GI tract. In other words, soluble fiber has no calories because it passes through the body intact.
Soluble fiber soothes and regulates the digestive tract, stabilizes the intestinal contractions resulting from the gastrocolic reflex, and normalizes bowel function from either extreme. Soluble fiber prevents and relieves both diarrhea and constipation. In addition, IBS responds to how you eat as well as what you eat. Comprehensive information about IBS treatment through diet continues here, and is in the groundbreaking book Eating for IBS.
IBS Treatment through Supplements
There are many types of supplements for symptom management of IBS that are very effective. In particular:
All of these supplements are of proven benefit for IBS symptoms. Results are usually felt very quickly - sometimes even immediately.
Most reputable Irritable Bowel Syndrome supplements, particularly medical foods for IBS, are very safe and carry little to no risk of side effects. They're usually inexpensive as well. In terms of risks versus benefits, supplements are a significantly better, safer, and likely more effective remedy than IBS prescription medications. Check here for comprehensive information about IBS treatment through supplements, or, alternately, see specific supplements by IBS symptom.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment through Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies, most notable gut-directed hypnotherapy, are clinically proven remedies for relieving IBS symptoms. Hypnotherapy actually offers the potential for a permanent cure, and research to establish this effect is ongoing. Hypnotherapy can (and should) be tailored to specifically address IBS patients, with a focus on reducing the frequency, severity, and duration of attacks. Impressively high success rates are achievable, and side effects should be non-existent.
Gut-directed or gut-specific hypnotherapy has been proven successful at reducing or even eliminating all Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. (You can listen to an IBS hypnotherapy program here.) Over 15 years of solid scientific research has demonstrated hypnosis to be an effective, safe and inexpensive treatment for IBS alleviation. For Irritable Bowel Syndrome, one of hypnotherapy's greatest benefits is its well-established ability to reduce the effects of stress. If you're struggling with IBS, the tension, anxiety, and depression that comes from living with an incurable illness can actually undermine your immune system and further compromise your health. Hypnosis can reduce this stress and its resultant negative impact by placing you in a deeply relaxed state, promoting positive thoughts and coping strategies, and clearing your mind of negative attitudes.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome in fact is almost uniquely suited to treatment by hypnosis or self-hypnosis, for several reasons. First, as just noted, stress-related attacks can be significantly reduced. Second, one of the most impressive aspects from hypnotherapy, and of tremendous benefit to IBS sufferers, is its well-documented ability to relieve virtually all types and degrees of pain. Finally, because IBS is not a disease at all but a syndrome, if you can relieve and prevent the symptoms, you have effectively cured yourself of the disorder. The underlying dysfunction may still be present but if you suffer no noticeable effects from it, you will be living an IBS-free life.
Stress activates the sympathetic nerve plexuses, and stimulates excessive adrenaline production, which in turn upsets the rhythmic muscle contractions of the gut. Given that people with IBS are prone to suffer from irregular GI contractions by definition, it's easy to see why stress is such a powerful trigger. Several interesting studies have actually shown the direct link between emotional stressors and subsequent IBS flares.
One stress factor that can have a significant impact on IBS symptoms is sleep loss. Since a poor night's sleep results in fatigue and a corresponding lower stress-tolerance level, being tired allows IBS to be more easily triggered. A significant correlation has been noted between morning IBS symptoms and the quality of the previous night's sleep. In fact, morning IBS symptoms seemed to rise or fall in direct association with the prior night's quality of sleep. A less strong but still significant relationship was found between end of day IBS symptoms and the quality of sleep during the previous evening. Ensuring an adequate night's sleep should be a top priority for reducing stress-induced IBS symptoms.
Yoga is another highly effective IBS treatment for stress-related symptoms. Yoga, a system of physical and mental exercises, rests on three foundations - exercise, breathing, and meditation - with the goal of joining together the body and mind into a state of balance and harmony. Yoga has been proven to provide a wide variety of significant health benefits, both physical and mental, including the alleviation and even prevention of digestive distress.
In particular, yoga is an excellent way to manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea. There are even specific yoga poses meant to address particular digestive problems; combining a regular yoga practice with an emphasis on these poses can help successfully manage IBS. Check here for additional information about IBS treatment through yoga, or get comprehensive information about yoga and all other stress management options for IBS in the highly recommended First Year: IBS book.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment through Prescription Medications
Unfortunately, there are very few IBS-specific drugs currently on the American market. Lotronex and Zelnorm are the only prescription drugs clinically tested and approved for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and they are highly limited in their FDA-accepted use. They are also very symptom-specific and do not comprehensively address global IBS symptoms; in fact, they can worsen IBS dramatically if they are inappropriately prescribed. There are other drugs, such as anti-spasmodics and anti-depressants, that are also used for various IBS symptoms.