Irritable bowel syndrome might not be the sexiest of topics, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. In fact, considering it affects nearly 45 million people in the United States alone, and that out of every three people affected, two of those are women, we thought it was about time to shed some light on the all-too-common condition.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS is an intestinal disorder that results in discomfort around the abdomen. Sufferers commonly experience frequent cramping, bloating, gas pains, and diarrhea.
In an effort to learn more about the gastrointestinal health issue that predominantly affects women, we reached out to Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, and Roshini Raj, MD, for a full briefing on IBS, as well as a few tips on how to control it sans medicine.
Bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, and altered bowel movements are just a few of the symptoms commonly associated with IBS. And, while you have likely experienced all of the above, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have the condition.
IBS is not a one-off issue caused by an increase in fast-food or too much coffee. Instead, Rosenberg says IBS affects your day to day life and that his clients are looking for a daily treatment. If that just so happens to be the case for you, Rosenberg encourages seeking out a doctor for a diagnosis, however, in the meantime, we have compiled five natural ways in which to help alleviate IBS symptoms. And, while they may not be a cure-all, they are gastroenterologist-approved. For the ways in which you can control symptoms of IBS without taking medicine, keep on reading.
Meet the Expert
- Jonathan Rosenberg, MD is a board-certified gastroenterologist.
- Roshini Raj, MD is a board-certified gastroenterologist.
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise works to help IBS in two ways. First, Raj says that moving your body moves your colon and, as a result, helps alleviate abdominal discomfort. And second, Rosenberg points out that exercise has been proven to reduce stress, which he says can help with perceived discomfort as well. So basically, if you have IBS, it's likely that a workout plan of sorts is beneficial.
Avoid Hard-to-Digest Foods
As a means to help the body manage the digestive process, Raj recommends staying away from foods that cause bloating, like lactose, sorbitol, and cruciferous veggies. Rosenberg adds that you should avoid hard-to-digest foods, like those high in sugars and fats. So just what can you eat if you have IBS? While there is no cure-all diet for IBS, the low FODMAP diet, which Rosenberg says reduces certain sugars and proteins that might “over-ferment” and lead to uncomfortable symptoms, is commonly practiced by many people with the condition. And, while Rosenberg insists that the diet is safe and sometimes effective, he adds that it is rather restrictive and recommends seeing a nutritionist if you plan to change your diet.
Drink Water Before and After Meals (and Throughout the Day, Too)
To keep the digestive process moving, Raj recommends drinking water before or after a meal, as the liquid helps to break down food and aids in the digestion process. Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but it can be especially essential around mealtimes for IBS sufferers. You can even add some fresh lemon slices to make your water more exciting, as citrus fruits are lower in sugar and should not aggravate your symptoms.
Try Taking Probiotics
Raj recommends eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kefir, as she says rebalancing your gut flora helps to alleviate uncomfortable bloating associated with IBS. Rosenberg agrees that probiotics work for some IBS patients, however, he says there is little convincing evidence to support these claims. With that said, he does not discourage their usage and promotes adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet as well. Probiotic pills are another way to get probiotics into your diet, but be sure to check with your doctor before you introduce new supplements.
Find A Great Therapist
Rosenberg says that cognitive behavioral therapy has been scientifically proven to reduce the symptoms of IBS. While behavioral therapy alone is unlikely to cure all IBS symptoms, when paired with medical treatment, it has been found to drastically reduce the common effects of IBS. There are a number of CBT techniques you can practice on your own or with the help of a therapist.