Natural Remedies for IBS: What Works and What Doesn’t
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) -is a common digestive disorder that affects millions of people around the world. Its symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation and more. In the UK, IBS occurs in 10-20% of the population, but this is thought to be higher as many individuals with IBS do not seek medical advice. (1)
While there is no known ‘cure’ for IBS, there are many natural remedies that can help manage the associated symptoms. Let’s jump in to some of the popular choices and figure out what works and what doesn’t!
IBS – WHAT WORKS?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that may be beneficial for the digestive system. They can help improve gut health by restoring the balance of bacteria in the gut. Studies have shown that taking probiotics may help reduce IBS symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. (2)
One review indicated that the following strains are the most beneficial for those who suffer from IBS: (3)
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium longum
When picking a probiotic for digestive health, it’s best to pick one with multiple strains rather than a one strain supplement.By taking a multi-strain probiotic, you may be able to address a broader range of health concerns than you would with a single strain probiotic.
One of my favourite supplements that I recommend to my clients is Inessa’s Advanced Biotic Complex- use the code CLARISSALENHERR for 10% off here
Low and slow is important when introducing a probiotic, as sometimes a new supplement may trigger a few changes in symptoms. Wait 7 days to see if the symptoms settle down. If the probiotic dosage is two capsules a day, perhaps start with 1 capsule and see how your body reacts before building up to the full dosage.
Check out my full guide to taking probiotics here: https://clarissalenherr.com/probiotics-guide-all-you-need-to-know/
A high-fibre diet can help to regulate bowel movements and relieve constipation, which is a common symptom of IBS. However, it’s essential to increase your fibre intake slowly to avoid additional symptoms such as bloating and excess gas. It can take time for the body to adapt to an increase in fibre, so increase it gradually.
As a first step approach, I tell my clients to increase their insoluble fibre intake to help with constipation and regular bowel movements.
Insoluble fibre attracts water into your intestines, which helps to soften your stool and keep things moving in the bowels. Some of my favourite food sources of insoluble fibre include nuts, beans, cauliflower and green beans.
Some of my favourite high fibre swaps to try in your diet include:
- White pasta for whole wheat pasta
- Bottled green juice for a green smoothie
- Shop bought granola for oats with added flax and chia seeds
- Apples for Raspberries
- Chicken soup for veggie bean chilli
- Sprinkle seeds onto your breakfasts and salads
- Always eat the skins of your fruit and vegetables
In an ideal world, we would get all the fibre we need from food, however, fibre supplements can help those who suffer from constipation, and many of them are made with natural ingredients, which I always recommend over laxatives. However, please note that excessive use of these supplements can cause symptoms such as gas and stomach pain. Some of my favourites include:
- PHGG- Derived from guar beans, PHGG is a convenient source of vegan dietary fibre that helps support the balance of bowel movements (think constipation or diarrhoea), PHGG is a heat-stable prebiotic that I love to bake into foods, add into soups, smoothies or add to my morning coffee.
- Psyllium- Psyllium husk is a naturally occurring, plant-derived source of fibre. It is often used to improve constipation. Psyllium can be taken by mixing whole husks into liquid, via a psyllium powder, or it is also available in capsule form.
- Inulin – Inulin is a type of prebiotic fibre that is not digested by the body, but instead serves as a food source for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Inulin is available as a powder, and can be stirred into drinks and hot foods.
FIBRE FOR IBS-D?
If you struggle with diarrhoea prone ibs (IBS-D), you may be wondering how and if you should be increasing your fibre intake without any, um, accidents.
Soluble fibre is your best option here as it attracts water, and removes excess fluid, helping to decrease any episodes of diarrhoea.
Some of my favourite soluble fibre foods include:
- Sweet potato
IS FIBRE TRIGGERING SYMPTOMS?
If you think fibre may be triggering your gut symptoms, then tracking the foods you eat and symptoms that appear may be key to understanding how changes in fibre are impacting you. I often use a food and symptom diary with my clients, with them writing down exactly what they’re eating and how they feel before and after to notice any patterns.
It’s important to also consider high fat foods, sparkling drinks, alcohol intake, spicy foods and non-dietary triggers such as stress, sleep, portion sizes, skipping meals, medications, physical activity and menstrual cycles.
If you think it is most likely fibre, then working with a nutritionist and experimenting with the low FODMAP diet may be just what you need.
Peppermint oil is a natural antispasmodic that can help relax the muscles in the digestive tract. It can help relieve abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Studies have indicated that peppermint oil may be as effective as prescription drugs in reducing IBS symptoms. (4)
Other studies have shown that peppermint oil is safe to use for IBS and as an effective short-term treatment with minimal side effects. The most common side effect was heartburn so this is something to keep in mind. (5)
My favourite peppermint oil supplement is by Veridian and available here
YOGA AND MEDITATION
Stress is one of the common IBS triggers we see at the Clarissa Lenherr Nutrition clinic.
Wind-down practices such as yoga and meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can in turn, improve IBS symptoms. Studies have shown that practising yoga and meditation can help improve digestive function and reduce IBS related symptoms (6). Start with 10 minutes a couple of times a week to feel the rewards!
Why not give your local yoga studio a try, or sign up to Glo, an online platform offering over 3000 yoga videos across 12 different styles, all from the comfort of your home.
Meditation has also been shown to reduce bowel-related symptoms and IBS distress. (7) Meditation involves focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity to achieve a state of mental clarity, relaxation, and inner peace. Try an at home meditation app to get you started such as Calm, a flexible app with less structured programs and exercises to help manage anxiety. Alternatively, the Superhuman app is great for beginners, with cooking and cleaning meditation recordings, 95% of users felt a positive mood shift within a week!
IBS – WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Often, people with IBS take on restrictive diets, such as the low FODMAP diet or vegan diets, to manage their symptoms. However, these diets can be challenging to follow and may not be necessary for everyone with IBS.
Long-term, restrictive diets may actually alter the gut microbiome and reduce the diversity of gut bacteria, which may have negative effects on your overall gut health. This is why we never recommend a full low fodmap diet for more than 6-8 weeks.
In addition, restrictive diets may also not address the underlying causes of IBS, and they are not necessary for everyone with IBS. Restricting certain foods can also lead to nutritional deficiencies and can often worsen symptoms, so it is always recommended to work with a gut health specialist if this is something you are interested in.
In our clinic, we may trial clients on a type of managed elimination diet, but this is always for a period of time to figure out each client’s personal triggers. Our aim is to support the microbiome health to then be able to re-introduce these foods.
Magic debloating pills seem to be everywhere, with social media feeds saturated with celebs and influencers touting the newest miracle supplement that has “fixed” their bloating for good. Some supplements may benefit your bloat, however there are some clear ones to avoid:
Gummies – Usually made up from gelatin, sugar and added colourings. Some brands use sugar alcohols or sweeteners to keep the sugar content low and so they can be marketed as “sugar free”, however sugar alcohols may trigger diarrhoea and bloating for some individuals, defeating the point of taking an anti-bloat gummy in the first place. (8)
Anti-bloat teas – Flat tummy teas claim to de-bloat, speed up your metabolism, support digestion and boost energy levels. However, these claims have not been proven through any clinical trials, and many of the teas are not even regulated, often using ingredients that can be dangerous when not used in the correct way. A number of ingredients have a laxative effect, which work to make you excrete excess stool and water. They can also increase your risk of dehydration and malnutrition through a loss of water, electrolytes and minerals.
Poor quality probiotics – Probiotics can now be picked up anywhere and everywhere, from your local supermarket, to beauty websites. And many of them are untested, contain few strains and may not even survive your stomach acid! Look out for a probiotic with over 10 billion CFU’s and multiple strains such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, which are some of the most researched probiotic strains around.
Cleanse/ detox blends – Many blends are now available on the market which are often made up of different powders, sold at a premium price as an easy “detox” option to support your bloating. They often have many ingredients thrown in there to justify the price point that don’t actually help your bloating. Some are not in a strong enough quantity or good enough quality to make a difference, and some can even exacerbate your bloating!
Colon cleanses usually involve using laxatives, enemas, or colon hydrotherapy to remove toxins from the colon. However, there is no scientific evidence to support the use of colon cleanses for IBS. In fact, colon cleanses may potentially worsen IBS symptoms by causing dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, intestinal irritation and other complications. They can also disrupt the natural balance of gut bacteria, which can negatively affect gut health and lead to further digestive issues.
Additionally, colon cleanses are not a sustainable or long-term solution for managing IBS symptoms. They may provide temporary relief, but they do not address the root causes of the condition, and symptoms are likely to return once the cleanse is finished.
In conclusion, natural remedies can help manage IBS symptoms, but not all remedies are effective. Probiotics, fibre, peppermint oil, yoga, and meditation have been scientifically proven to be effective in reducing IBS symptoms. Whereas, restrictive diets, anti bloat pills, and colon cleanses may not be helpful and can even be harmful.
It may be helpful to chat with a Nutritional therapist before trying any natural remedy for IBS, and it may save you money in the long run. I am now taking on new clients for my GUT HEALTH PACKAGE- Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.