About one in six people in the U.S. have symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a common disorder that causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
While some people switch to extreme diets or resign themselves to living with pain and discomfort after meals, there are some surprisingly simple steps you can take to relieve symptoms of IBS. Adding some commonly found herbs or foods to your diet can drastically reduce symptoms.
Many studies have shown that peppermint oil is highly effective in treating the symptoms of IBS. In fact, one large study found that it was far more effective than the most usual recommended remedy, fiber supplements.
Web MD reported that researchers in one study estimated that one in 2.5 patients would get significant relief of Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms if treated with peppermint oil, compared to one in five patients who were taking antispasmodics and one in 11 patients taking fiber. The study participants took about 200 milligrams of peppermint oil in capsule form, two or three times a day.
Also try peppermint tea between meals, simply brewing fresh or dried leaves in hot water, which Help for IBS recommends. Peppermint can also be used in many recipes, and even Altoids mints have been shown to help relieve IBS symptoms.
Psyllium seed husks are portions of the seeds of the plant Plantago ovata. Psyllium seeds are an excellent source of soluble fiber, which has been found to improve IBS symptoms for many patients (as opposed to insoluble fiber like bran, which can actually make symptoms worse).
— Fareed Riyaz (@FareedRiyazMD) August 2, 2016
Irritable bowel syndrome: Psyllium beats bran for symptom relief: November 04, 2014 http://t.co/rwZnaY5sQw
— Pharmacy Podcast (@PharmacyPodcast) November 4, 2014
Medline Plus reported that there is evidence that blond psyllium seed husk can relieve constipation and improve abdominal pain, diarrhea, and overall well-being. They note that it may take up to four weeks of treatment to get the best results.
Studies have shown that 10-30 grams of psyllium per day were most effective. In studies, patients typically stirred 10 grams into yogurt twice a day.
Psyllium is the main ingredient in Metamucil but can also be purchased as whole or powdered husks and used in cooking (it’s especially popular in gluten free cooking because it can improve the texture of some baked goods) or mixed with liquids.
It is wise to start with a small dose (preferably broken down into several doses during the day) and gradually increase it.
Lemon balm is another helpful herb for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This perennial herb is in the mint family and has a lemon flavor. It has been used for thousands of years for countless ailments.
WebMD reports that it is widely used for digestive problems such as upset stomach, bloating, intestinal gas, vomiting and colic.
Try drinking lemon balm tea several times per day to help with IBS symptoms. Self Healing Herbs notes that people with hypothyroidism should avoid using lemon balm (especially long term) because studies have shown that lemon balm extracts strongly inhibit the action of thyroid hormone in the body (TSH). It is a very helpful herb, however, for people suffering from hyperthyroidism or thyroid cancer.
Numerous studies have also found that yogurt and probiotics can be effective in minimizing the symptoms of IBS.
Probiotic yogurt with bifidobacteria may lessen the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and help reduce constipation
— Emran Malik (@Fructusoperendi) March 13, 2015
— Homemade Yogurt (@yogurtstarters) November 22, 2013
In one study published in the journal of College of Family Physicians of Canada, researchers reported that a recent meta-analysis of 23 different research trials found that probiotics from yogurt resulted in improvement of IBS symptoms and abdominal pain.
“Probiotics appear to act in several ways that are not yet completely understood,” the scientists noted. “They alter the intraluminal milieu, producing beneficial short-chain fatty acids and deconjugating bile acids, and limit the growth of pathogenic bacteria by direct competition.”
Researchers noted that probiotics from yogurt also had anti-inflammatory effects and improved IBS symptoms in other ways, as well.
Since dairy may exacerbate IBS symptoms for some people, you may wish to try dairy-free yogurts (such as those made with almond milk, rice milk, soy milk or coconut milk) or simply purchase probiotics in capsule form. Other sources of non-dairy probiotics, such as water kefir, make a great addition to your diet, too.
Ginger has been used for digestive ailments for thousands of years. Ginger’s combination of mild inflammatory actions, anti-spasmodic properties and powerful digestive enzymes make it a favorite remedy for ailments from nausea to morning sickness to cramping.
Ginger root,a remedy for travel sickness, nausea and indigestion,used for wind, colic, irritable bowel& loss of appetite, #comidadeliciosa
— comida deliciosa (@comidadelicios2) February 17, 2016
Ginger is available in many different forms and all of them are highly effective for IBS. Both fresh and dried ginger root can be brewed into teas. Roughly chopping or grating the fresh root will increase the strength of the brew. They advise to simply strain out the root when the tea has reached its desired strength.
Crystallized ginger slices taste like somewhat spicy candy, and can be chewed and eaten between or after meals to prevent Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. Even ginger Altoids have been shown to be beneficial, and they can be chewed as often as desired to relieve nausea or other IBS symptoms.
Papayas contain the enzyme papain, which is highly effective at breaking down proteins such as those in meats and accelerating digestion.
Papaya helps neutralize excess gastric acid and may help heartburn, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome. #EatOrganic
— Black Hanna (@MichaelOrganic) August 8, 2013
— A Health Blog (@AHealthBlog) October 9, 2016
Superfood Profiles reports that papayas are rich sources of proteolytic enzymes, such as papain, chymopapain, caricain and glycyl endopeptidase, that can greatly aid in digestion.
Papayas can be especially helpful in treating IBS symptoms after meals that contain meat or other concentrated forms of protein.
Papain can be taken as a supplement, since it is highest in unripe papayas.
— Vaidehee Aesthetics (@vaidehee_aesthe) September 16, 2015
Note that pregnant women should avoid taking papain supplements.
Many health experts (even Dr. Oz) recommend caraway seeds to help ease gas, bloating and intestinal pain.
All this time I could have been using peppermint oil and caraway seeds to help control my IBS Thanks Dr.OZ
— Mike Graham (@SilkyMJG) May 25, 2012
Caraway seeds calm the smooth muscles in the intestines to help relax spasms, and can be easily incorporated into meals and teas.
Caraway has been used for many years to treat indigestion, nervous disorders, and colic. Help for IBS points out that countries around the world still use caraway as a traditional ingredient in foods such as meats and cheeses that are heavy and difficult to digest.
— Dan-D-Pak (@DanDFoods) September 27, 2016
Caraway stimulates the production of gastric juices, plus it has anti-spasmodic effects and anti-microbial properties. Two chemicals present in caraway seeds soothe the smooth muscle tissues of the digestive tract and help expel gas to reduce bloating.
Caraway seeds can be brewed into tea (lightly crush them first to increase their strength). Whole caraway seeds can also simply be chewed between or after meals to reduce Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.
Pineapple helps IBS sufferers in several ways. It contains enzymes which help with digestion, it is a natural cleanser and it reduces inflammation.
— The Diet Coach (@DietCoachWales) September 23, 2016
Several studies have shown that bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, help treat IBS symptoms. Its use as a treatment for IBS is new, however, and side effects have been reported when bromelain was used for other disorders. You may want to take fresh pineapple until more research has been done.
— Simply Healing Detox (@simplydetox) November 11, 2015
found out eating dried pineapple is not good for IBS…yes I found out the hard way…that'll teach me
— Janey Godley (@JaneyGodley) October 8, 2013
To use pineapple to treat IBS, try eating a slice of pineapple after each meal.
Chamomile has been used for centuries to treat digestive ailments and it can be a great natural supplement to treat IBS. Very Well notes that chamomile is a known anti-spasmotic and a mild sedative, and may help soothe the muscles in the digestive tract, as well.
Chamomile is known for its calming effect on smooth muscle tissue, notes Help For IBS. This makes it an effective remedy for gastrointestinal spasms, indigestion and gas. They note that it’s often taken as a bedtime beverage, due to its mild sedative effects.
When taken taken to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chamomile is generally either as a tea three to four times a day between meals, or in capsule and tincture forms two to four times daily.
Note that chamomile is a flower in the Asteraceae, or daisy, family. People who are allergic to ragweed, aster, or chrysanthemums may also have a reaction to chamomile. Chamomile can also interfere with chemotherapy drugs.
Fennel relieves the smooth muscle lining of the digestive tract and aids digestion. It also relieves indigestion, gas and dyspepsia, as well as reducing intestinal spasms.
Fennel seeds have a mild licorice flavor and they are commonly used to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms by brewing it into a tea, eHow reported. They note that fennel seeds can help obtain relief from bloating and gas, the two most common symptoms of IBS.
You can make tea by lightly crushing the seeds and them brewing them in hot water or you can simply chew on the fennel seeds. Fennel is said to have antispasmodic effects upon the bowels and stimulates gastric juices.
In addition to herbs and foods, other remedies that have been proven to help some sufferers of IBS include yoga (particularly exercises that exercise the lower abdomen), meditation, regular exercise and cannabis.
[Featured Image by Oxana Denezhkina/Shutterstock]