Irritable bowel syndrome is one of those frustrating little phrases doctors reel off when they don’t know what is causing your stomach problems. It could mean stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhoea or all three! All very different symptoms and all very complex conditions which could point to any number of causes, from simple stress and a rich diet to many other things.
If you have eczema, allergies, asthma and food intolerance it’s likely that you have, at some time in your life, had irritable bowel to some degree. Most people will experience it at some point in their lives, but chronic, recurring and endless irritable bowel can be painful, tiring, depressing and ultimately not that great for your health and well-being.
It is often a symptom of undiagnosed coeliac disease but could just as easily point to so many other things, or not be caused by anything specific at all. Some medications can also cause constipation so it’s important to be mindful of any changes after taking a new prescription or changes in your diet.
Without going into too many details I’ve had my fair share of this most common of complaints. Whether that’s caused by eating the wrong foods, stress, gluten intolerance, poor digestive health or lack of good bacteria in my gut, it’s always unpleasant and sometimes is very hard to shift – if you get my drift!
A recent very draining episode led me to explore the natural ways to fight this condition. It rather depends which kind of irritable bowel you have; a blockage or passing loose stools. Let’s concentrate on the former here since this is the one I have most knowledge of.
Generally most people should have a bowel movement every day. Once to twice a day is quite normal. I have been very regular, up till now, so was not prepared for long term irritable bowel. Someone who does not have bowel movement for longer than two to three days is classed as consiptated.
It’s not something I’d ever thought of going to the doctors about. I have just got on with my life and worked around it, waiting for the thing to pass (no pun intended – well alright, it was too good an opportunity to ignore). Which it always did, after day or so, so nothing to worry about.
What would the doctor say anyway? Probably not much and probably send you away with nothing more than the advice to take some laxatives. Well, I was kind of pleasantly surprised after a hellish TWO WEEKS which left me feeling so sluggish and nauseous I didn’t know what to do. I was at my wits end so resorted to phoning the doctor. The doctor’s advice was actually very useful.
She explained that the nausea is quite normal if someone has been constipated for some time. Not something I’d ever experienced before. She actually suggested a natural solution in the form of senna but with clear instructions of how to take it, how many, when and for how long. Basically she suggested taking two, at night before bed, until things started to move. She then advised reducing to one senna capsule nightly, until back to normal. Plenty or water and fruit. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But I wasn’t being methodical enough with my treatment before, despite having senna capsules and having had success in the past with them, I hadn’t kept taking them, thinking they weren’t working. Let’s just say things are much happier now and on the right path back to regular normality.
Here are a few of the things that you might find help…
Fifteen tips to avoid constipation and irritable bowel
- Make sure you eat plenty of fibre e.g. brown rice, bran cereals, weetabix, muesli, porridge or wholemeal pasta. Your digestive system needs something to work on. If you suspect a wheat intolerance, gluten allergy, or you are coeliac, obviously some of these foods would not be a good idea.
- Eat your five a day of fruit and vegetables
- Drink plenty of water e.g. at least two litres a day
- Prunes or prune juice – plain and simple. Have a handful with breakfast, lunch and before bed.
- Digestive enzymes – these can be found at health food shops, as capsules, and taken with food can help with digestion
- Chew your food – there are no teeth in your stomach as my nan used to say. Make sure you really do chew up your food properly so that the job of digestion is made easier
- Healthy bacteria – Natural yogurt contains cultures and digestive enzymes that will really help aid digestion. If you can’t eat dairy you can buy dairy free capsules at health food shops. Ask for Acidophilus
- Exercise regularly – a walk, run etc. work wonders
- Psylium Husks
- Add a teaspoon of ground flax seed to your porridge or cereals in the morning
- Start the day, before you’ve done anything else, with a mug of hot/warm water with lemon juice. It can work wonders at stimulating the stomach and bowels into action
- A mug of good, strong, real filter coffee can also help. It doesn’t work for everyone but worth a try
- Some people find that hot spicy food really helps so add some cayenne, paprika or fresh chilli to your evening meal
- Peppermint tea can really help with indigestion so have a mug after eating a big meal, or before you go to bed to aid digestion
- Slimatee – I was recommended to try this at my local health food store (Holland & Barrett). It’s sold as a weight control and diet aid and warns that it may cause loose stools. It contains frangula bark, senna leaf, peppermint leaf, hibiscus flowers, blacktea, goldenrod herb and mate tee. Let’s just say that for me it seemed to kind of free things up somewhat. Shouldn’t be taken for longer than two weeks.
There are absolutely loads of foods that can have a natural laxative effect for some people, including: Avocado, Alcohol, Almonds, Aloe Vera, Apple Juice, Chicken Broth (canned), Chicory, Chocolate, Coconut, Coffee, Dandelion, Dates, Dried apricots, Endive, Figs, Flaxseed, Grapes, Hot Tea w/ Lemon, Licorice, Mangos, Molasses, Olives, Papayas, Parsley, Peach/Apricots, Pears, Persimmons, Pineapple, Plums, Prunes/Prune Juice, Rhubarb, Soybeans, Spicy Foods, Turnips, Walnuts, Watercress… the list is endless, and we are all different.
What works for you may not work for someone else, so learn to recognise which foods have this effect on you so you can turn to a natural remedy when the need arises.
Some people can find that senna and some other over-the-counter laxatives are quite harsh and can cause stomach cramps and pain as they begin to act. Not great if you’ve taken them before bed and you then can’t sleep. Lactulose can be much more gentle but beware, it contains lactose, as the name suggests, so is not suitable for anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance. A word of caution, if symtoms persists for longer than two to three weeks do see your doctor.
Be aware of how your body is behaving. Keep a note, even it it’s just mental, of what foods, circumstances etc. seem to trigger your irritable bowel. Some people just have a sluggish digestive system for no good reason. Not helpful it that’s what’s happening to you but there are lots of healthy things you can do to help.
Do you suffer with constipation? How do you cope? What’s your constipation best ever tip?