Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Food supplements and relief of IBS
Herbs and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Maintenance of the Digestive Tract
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
This issue concentrates on Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS (irritable colon,
mucous colitis or spastic colon), a condition that some people say is all in
the mind, but those who suffer with IBS have a different tale to tell. Diet,
lifestyle and stress management all have a role to play, as have body awareness
and being able to say no to troublesome food or drink when in social company.
Of the many disorders of the digestive system which include coeliac disease,
insufficient gastric acid production, increasing age, surgery involving the
digestive system, ulcers, excessive alcohol consumption, lactose intolerance,
colitis, stress, and inadequate chewing of food, IBS is one that affects around
20 - 30% of adults. True figures cannot be established because many people suffer
in silence through either embarrassment or ignorance.
Important Note: There are many digestive disorders that could appear to be IBS.
It is important to consult a doctor if IBS is suspected because changes in bowel
habit should be investigated. Cancer in part of the digestive tract cannot be
ruled out until tests have been carried out.
IBS is a common disorder; it occurs mostly in early to middle age and is suffered
by twice as many women as men. IBS is characterised by intermittent abdominal
pain and irregular bowel habit (constipation, diarrhoea or both (alternating).
The symptoms include spasmodic cramp-like pain in the abdomen, swelling (distension)
of the abdomen, feeling of incomplete evacuation of the bowels and excessive
wind. Movement of the bowel or passing wind may temporarily relieve the pain.
Symptoms may be worsened by particular foods.
Causes of IBS may be attributed to a deficiency in dietary fibre; psychological
issues; or unrealised food intolerances. In some cases, IBS may be confused
with lactose intolerance, in which a deficiency in the enzyme lactase causes
fermentation of lactose in the intestine, leading to abdominal cramps, bloating
and flatulence. IBS is a multi-faceted problem and more than one approach may
The addition of soluble fibre to the diet from fruit, vegetables, oats, rice,
linseed, or psyllium supplements may well be beneficial as this type of fibre
absorbs water from the bowel and helps bulk the stools. Fibre aids in the evacuation
and elimination of waste materials. It is recommended that the average adult
consume at least 18g of fibre a day. Dietary fibre increases stool weight and
reduces transit time in the intestine. Low stool weight (under 150g/day) and
slow transit time (more than 4-5 days) are thought to be associated with an
increased risk of bowel disease.
There are several ways that daily fibre intake can be increased:
" Increasing fruit and vegetable intake to 400g/day.
" Increasing wholemeal bread intake to about 200g/day.
" Eating more legumes such as peas and beans.
" Eating a wholemeal breakfast cereal (50g/day).
Wholegrain cereal sources are effective bulking foods. A recent review by the
Nutrition Society reported that the consumption of wholegrains can favourably
alter the micro-flora of the gut and promote the production of short chain fatty
acids - an important fuel for the mucosal cells of the colon.
Dietary fibre intake should be introduced gradually, to allow the gut to adjust.
A rapid increase in fibre intake may lead to abdominal discomfort and pain.
Phytic acid found in bran can inhibit the absorption of minerals and anyone
whose mineral balance is precious, such as the elderly, should avoid raw bran
and high bran cereals; oat or rice bran may be more suitable.
Food supplements and relief of IBS symptoms:
Digestive enzymes may help especially
if heartburn or indigestion is being experienced. People who eat when tired,
emotionally upset or stressed, may find enzymes beneficial (although strictly
speaking, one shouldnt eat when tired or upset).
Piperine is a constituent of black
pepper. Studies reveal that piperine causes an increase in the bioavailability
of ions and macromolecules and this may be useful on respect of food intolerance.
Piperine has been shown to increase the bioavailability CoQ10, Vitamin C, selenium,
beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin B6.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is a probiotic
lactic bacterium that helps maintain a healthy balance of the intestinal flora
in the intestine. As a result, the production and build up of harmful pathogenic
bacteria is reduced. Pathogenic bacteria cause infectious disease by invading
tissues, excreting antigens and/or toxins that damage tissue. Levels of pathogenic
bacteria can reach as high as 85% of gut flora composition; some common examples
include Bacillus coli, Candida albicans, Escheria coli and Salmonella typhosa.
If pathogenic bacteria predominate in the digestive system, a range of adverse
health effects may result including diarrhoea, disrupted bowel rhythm, poor
digestion, nutrient deficiencies and impaired absorption.
Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (Lp299v)
is a highly specific strain from the plantarum group of friendly bacteria. This
strain differs from other plantarum species because it has been extensively
researched regarding its use for those with digestive conditions and, in particular,
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Studies have shown that Lp299v could decrease
the frequency and severity of up to 90% of symptoms experienced by IBS sufferers.
However, this particular strain has also been associated with a therapeutic
role for conditions such as diarrhoea, heart disease and has also been shown
to help boost the immune system at the gut level.
Consumption of high levels of animal fats, sugars, processed foods, refined
carbohydrates and alcohol can inhibit the growth of lactic bacteria; while complex
carbohydrates from vegetables, beans and grains are beneficial to their growth.
Repopulating the intestine with friendly lactic bacteria may help prevent
illnesses by modifying the gut pH creating a good environment for anti-microbial
and antibacterial compounds as well as stimulating immune cells, and producing
small amounts of lactase used to digest the milk sugar lactose.
Lactase is the enzyme used to digest
lactose (milk sugar). After weaning the body decreases production of lactase.
If there is insufficient lactase present, the consumption of milk may produce
diarrhoea, abdominal pain and distension. This is because unabsorbed lactose
attracts water (osmosis) into the small bowel and results in large amounts of
fluid and sugar entering the large bowel. The sugar then ferments rapidly and
consequently produces gas in the intestine. Osmotic diarrhoea may occur if there
is enough lactose present. The ability to digest lactose has been lost by the
majority of the world population. Some people choose to take a lactase enzyme
supplement with dairy containing food, while others simply omit milk (and dairy
ice-cream) from the diet. Yoghurt and cheese should not cause severe problems
because they are made using lactic bacteria that pre-digest or break down
the lactose into its component monosaccharides of glucose and galactose.
Multinutrients may be taken to help
prevent deficiencies brought about by a restricted diet or incomplete absorption
Vitamin A and zinc are of primary
importance in the regeneration of the mucosal cells of the digestive tract.
Vitamin A is also involved in mucus production and contributes to the integrity
of the mucus membrane that lines the gastrointestinal tract. Food sources of
vitamin A include liver and oily fish, beta-carotene (the pre-cursor to Vitamin
A) is found in pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and orange-red fruits.
Zinc is important in digestion because production of stomach acid is dependent
on zinc. Without adequate zinc, production of stomach acid can be reduced, which
in turn compromises the absorption of other nutrients including zinc itself.
Food sources of zinc include meat, shellfish, peanuts, and legumes.
Herbs and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Artichoke leaf extract has been shown to be as effective in reducing the symptoms
of IBS as conventional treatments.
Chamomile has carminative, soothing and toning effects on the digestive tract.
Research is investigating its effects on alternating diarrhoea and constipation.
Ginger (as tablets) may be taken for its calming (anti-cathartic) action and
may reduce the severity of diarrhoea; the root can be made into a tea; or when
out for the day, some crystallised ginger may be eaten. However, it would be
wise to bear in mind the carminative (wind expelling) nature of ginger!
Peppermint, particularly enteric-coated peppermint oil can be beneficial in
relieving the symptoms of IBS. Research has confirmed that peppermint oil acts
directly on the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract to alleviate muscle
Slippery elm has been used traditionally to sooth inflammation and promotes
healing in the digestive tract. It forms mucilage, which protects the gastric
mucosa from the acid of digestive juice.
Maintanance of the Digestive TractProactive maintenance of the digestive tract is essential. The diet should
be as varied as possible, rich in whole grains, fruit, vegetables, starch and
fibre, it should not provide excess fat, sugar, salt or alcohol. Diet should
also provide an amount of energy that is appropriate to the requirements of
the individual. The health of the digestive system is dependent on the consumption
of a balanced diet, moderate exercise and sensible lifestyle choices. Consuming
fermented foods such as live yoghurt, cottage cheese, and soured milk products
that contain certain types of beneficial bacteria can help replenish levels
in the gut.
Food supplements can have a role in accounting for the constraints and pressures
that modern lifestyles can impose and under certain circumstances may have therapeutic
Methods used to destroy pathogens such as the use of pesticides and the cooking
of food destroys probiotic bacteria. The use of certain drugs, such as broad-spectrum
antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and oral contraception,
can reduce levels of beneficial bacteria in the body.
Allow plenty of time to sit down and relax while eating. Eat in a quiet area
away from noise and other peoples activity. Chew each mouthful of food thoroughly
before swallowing, 40 times is recommended! Try it and see what happens. If
worry, overwork or fearfulness is an issue, a flower remedy may be helpful.
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