Irritable Bowel Syndrome


It’s estimated that 20 percent of all Americans suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms can include constipation or diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bowel urgency, gas, and bloating. What’s behind these uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing symptoms? Under normal circumstances, colon motility (the contraction of intestinal muscles and the movement of the intestines’ contents) is tightly controlled by nerves, hormones, and electrical activity in the colon. But eating certain foods, stress, and depression can cause the colon to overreact. The resulting spasms can increase symptoms in some people.


When you have IBS, food can be the enemy. Symptoms can be triggered by foods like dairy products, wheat, chocolate, alcohol, dietary fats, corn, and “gassy” vegetables like broccoli. The good news is that food can also ease symptoms. Fiber, especially soluble fiber, is important for overall digestive health and regulates bowel motility. Strive to get at least 25 grams of fiber a day from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. It’s also important to swap out saturated and trans fats that can exacerbate IBS with the healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil.


Stress can clearly trigger or worsen symptoms of IBS. When left unmanaged, it can cause increased sensitivity and interfere with normal gut function. Breathing slowly from the abdomen instead of the chest helps relax the body and mind. Other good stress-busting activities include meditation, yoga, massage, or exercise. Another benefit of working out, especially aerobically, is that it can help with constipation and other intestinal discomforts. Hypnotherapy may be another effective way to ease IBS. Clinical trials show that hypnotherapy can reduce colorectal sensitivity and motility as well as anxiety and depression. It’s best to work with a hypnotherapist with training in IBS. To find one in your area, go to


Glutamine: is an amino acid often found to be lacking in those suffering from IBS. Preliminary research suggests that taking supplemental glutamine can reduce inflammation and may help repair the intestinal lining in those with both IBS and leaky gut syndrome. Anecdotal reports also suggest that glutamine may be especially beneficial for those suffering from IBS with diarrhea. Typical dosage: 500 mg three times per day.

Peppermint oil: can help relieve IBS symptoms, including abdominal cramping and pain. This is attributed to peppermint’s ability to relax the smooth muscles in the colon. Clinical trials show that peppermint oil helps relieve abdominal pain in 58 percent of IBS sufferers. Just be sure to take enteric-coated capsules to ensure that the peppermint actually reaches the colon where it’s needed most. Typical dosage: Three to six capsules, taken in divided doses, every day, between meals.

Probiotics: According to one randomized clinical trial by researchers from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, simply boosting the number of friendly bugs in the gut may improve both colon function and IBS symptoms. During the trial, 48 patients with IBS were given either probiotics or a placebo twice a day. Those taking the probiotics experienced considerably more relief from gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea than those taking the placebo. Typical dosage: 1 to 5 billion CFUs of a multiple strain probiotic daily.