Millions of people suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and don't seek help from it. Instead, they tend to treat it with many over the counter medicines to control diarrhea, constipation, and other stomach upsets. They tend to view it as not a real disease and rather as "bad digestion" instead. Although it is generally not life threatening, it can be totally disruptive to a person's social and professional lives. In more severe cases, it may prevent a person from even leaving their own homes. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Most IBS patients suffer from diarrhea, while some have constipation and a few alternate between diarrhea and constipation. 

    IBS has both a physiological and psychological component. IBS involves a chemical imbalance in the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is a second nervous systemthat manages the digestive system. When the ENS fails to communicate with the central nervous system (CNS), normal bowel function is impaired. Many IBS cases are triggered by a specific event (use of antibiotics, food poisoning, digestive system infection, physical assault, etc.). Hormone imbalances, hormone replacement therapy, or birth control pills can trigger IBS. Psychological stress can lead to IBS. The stress may be sudden and severe or chronic and mild. Since IBS can produce stress itself, once started, it can be a vicious cycle. Stress leads to decreased production of stomach acid which leads to decreased production of intrinsic factor which is necessary for the digestion and absorption of vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 is needed for the normal rhythmic movement (peristalsis) of the digestive tract. Fecal matter may then be moved too fast (diarrhea) or too slow (constipation).   

Treatment of IBS involves the following:

Exercise: Take a brisk walk daily for 15-20 minutes. This can be done in advance of potentially stressful situations, before meals, or other times that help you relax.

Medical: Keep medications close by (e.g. Imodium A-D). Often having them on hand is enough to prevent episodes of diarrhea. Check hormone levels and find out if any hormone pills or other medications you are taking may be causing IBS. Do not listen to any doctor that tells you hormones have nothing to do with IBS. Do not drink alcohol or use tobacco. Food allergies may be a major contributor to IBS. 

Psychological:  Learn to under react. When you feel an episode is coming, tell yourself that you are fine. The more you can convince yourself of this, the less frequent and severe an attack will be. Learn deep breathingstress management, and relaxation techniques, take up yoga, or practice Tai Chi. Biofeedback is also very useful in the treatment of IBS. The more you worry about having an attack, the more liekly you are to have one!

Sleep: Make sure that you get 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night. Getting too little or too much sleep can contribute significantly to IBS. If you don't wake in the morning feeling refreshed and energized and feel tired, exhausted, or sleepy during the day, it is likely that you are not getting good quality sleep and this should be further evaluated. Practice good sleep hygiene.

Nutrition: Avoid fast foods, high fat foods, carbonated drinks, and anything that contains sorbitol or fructose (especially high fructose corn syrup). Avoid problem foods such as refined or fried foods, sugar, wheat (or any foods containing gluten), dairy, and caffeine. High protein foods or meals can contribute to IBS, especially the constipation form. Don't chew gum. It introduces excess air into your digestive system which can exacerbate symptoms. Take sublingual forms of B-12 in the form of methylcobalamin. Enteric coated organic peppermint oil capsules can significantly help with IBS symptoms when taken between meals. There are also a number of orthomolecular, herbal, homeopathic, and other naturopathic medicines that can be of significant help in the treatment of IBS.

Spiritual: Often times stress occurs from a more spiritual perspective when we go through major live changes. Make sure you have a sense of who you are and what your purpose in life is. Frequently, stress comes from a loss of perspective on this after a major change in our lives (e.g., divorce, death, career change, etc.). Identify life goals and develop strategies on achieving them. Many goals are not fully attained in our lives but, if we are achieving more short-term goals towards the final goals, we will be happy and less stressed.

Environmental: Make sure the environments we work, live, and play in are not causing us undo stress. We should examine how are senses are affected by our environment. Are we coming in contact with foods or pollutants that may be contributing to IBS?

Life Skills: Stress is often caused by our lack of skills with something such as parenting, communication, financial management, stress management, relaxation skills, or other ability to get a handle on major life activities or events. Figure out what stressors may be involved in IBS and determine what it is you need to be able to do to reduce the stress yourself.