Do you usually have abdominal pain and cramping? Is this followed by soft stools and bloating of the stomach? Do you feel your stomach acting up, getting noisy and uncomfortable especially in times of stress? Do you have bouts of diarrhea or constipation? If so, you could have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
But don’t get irritated because millions of people have it. In Japan, 40% of individuals have an irritable bowel, probably from stress. IBS can be inherited and usually occurs in anxious or depressed individuals.
Diagnosis and possible causes
If you are looking for a weakness of medical science, then IBS is probably one. Just imagine, there is no laboratory test to confirm the disease. You can only say that a person probably has IBS based on vague symptoms like abdominal cramps, bloating, frequent diarrhea, and/or constipation. It’s a strange feeling — like you need to move your bowel again even after you’ve just been to the bathroom. Medically, doctors formulated the Rome’s criteria for IBS.
If you read the standard medical textbook, there is no definite cause for an irritable bowel. They say it has something to do with “sensitive” nerves, which is a nice way of saying “we don’t know anything at all.”
What about stress? Doctors are divided on whether stress can cause IBS. From my experience, stress definitely worsens symptoms of IBS, especially mental stress like work, deadlines, and life’s problems.
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There are medicines to treat IBS, but I prefer natural remedies first. I’ve done my research on these drugs and, for me, I am not comfortable with their side effects.
• Eat green leafy vegetables and bananas. I’ll share with you my secret formula for IBS. If you have bouts of diarrhea, try to eat more bananas. They’re like miracle food. Bananas help coat the stomach and protect it from too much acid. It also helps form your stools. On the other hand, if you have constipation, try to eat more high-fiber vegetables like patola, kangkong, okra, pechay, and broccoli. They help normalize your bowel movement.
• Avoid unnecessary medicines. Stay away from laxatives. They can weaken the linings of your bowels. I suggest that readers be careful with drugs for IBS. They’re not proven yet. See if your symptoms are better off with or without medicines.
• Take frequent sips of water. This advice is good also for those with ulcers and gastritis. Taking regular sips of water, like three gulps every 15 minutes, washes off the acid in the stomach. Try to drink 10-12 glasses every day.
• Eat the same food at the same time every day. I know this sounds hard, but since our bowels are picky with new acquaintances, try to eat similar foods every day, and at the same time. Go for six small frequent feedings.
Our stomachs love carbohydrates and warm foods (like congee), rice, vegetables, and soup. It dislikes spicy foods, taco chips, cold water, and too much milk. However, each person is unique. Keep a food diary of what is pleasant or unpleasant to your stomach. Know the foods that make your stomach contented and happy.
• Release stress and relax. If you are angry, tell a friend about it. If you are irritated, resolve the conflict with your spouse or friend. Bottling the anger inside you will affect your bowels.
There are many other things you can try. Like yoga, meditation, spa, music therapy or traveling. Just be careful with your food when you travel.
• Try non-caffeinated teas. You can try taking warm soothing teas like chamomile tea or peppermint tea. Try it at night for relaxation.
• Pray and lift it up to God. I know you might think it’s silly, but prayers have really helped me with my irritable bowel. When the bowels act up, usually there is stress involved and knowing this helps me accept the problem. I follow the food plan I’ve listed above and then I just pray away the pain.
Keep your mind calm even if your bowels are not. I inevitably fall asleep and the pain is gone in the morning.
Some people may get turned off when I say that most ailments can be cured by having a peaceful mind and a positive attitude. But I sincerely believe this will help patients in the long run. Soon, you will get the hang of it. Don’t despair, living with an irritable bowel is easier than you think.