If you do suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, in addition to talking to your doctor, there are dietary and lifestyle changes that can help.
You may be able to lessen the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome by avoiding or reducing the following:
• large meals
• wheat, rye, barley, chocolate, milk products, alcohol
• drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and colas
• stress, conflict, or emotional upsets
Researchers have also found that women with irritable bowel syndrome may have more symptoms during their menstrual periods, suggesting that reproductive hormones can worsen irritable bowel syndrome problems.
Natural approaches to irritable bowel syndrome
While medications are sometimes used to help deal with the symptoms, there are very effective natural approaches that can help you manage your irritable bowel syndrome.
Identify your 'trigger foods' – The most common food irritants for irritable bowel syndrome sufferers are dairy and wheat products. In order to determine which foods may cause a reaction, it is recommended to follow a strict elimination diet. Eliminate dairy for three to five days while keeping a journal on how you are feeling. Following the specific time frame, re-introduce the food to test your system to see if symptoms re-occur.
Drink six to eight glasses of water or herbal tea each day – In addition to drinking fresh clean water daily, opt for soothing herbal teas such as mint or ginger tea. Avoid carbonated beverages such as sodas, which can lead to bloating and discomfort.
Watch your stress levels – If you have irritable bowel syndrome, stress can trigger spasms in your colon. The colon is partially controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which reacts to stress. This is one reason why people experience cramping or 'butterflies' in their stomach when they are nervous.
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In individuals with irritable bowel syndrome, the colon can overreact to even the smallest amount of stress resulting in a gastro-intestinal reaction. Practice stress-relieving techniques (such as yoga, mediation and belly breathing), exercising and getting a good night's sleep can all have a positive effect.
Eating smaller meals and chewing your food – Chewing thoroughly starts the process of digestion by breaking down food into small particles and mixing it with saliva and the enzyme amylase. In a nutshell, the more you chew, the more broken down your food will be, which enhances absorption in the small intestine. It is also wise to eat only until you are sufficiently sufficed, not stuffed. Try eating until you are 80 per cent full to avoid feeling bloated. It takes twenty minutes for the brain to register a 'full' sensation. By slowing down your meals, chewing your food and making mealtime longer than twenty minutes, digestion will be improved dramatically.
Include extra fibre in your diet
Added fibre can help to regulate and normalize bowel movements. It is best to use water soluble sources of fibre such as psyllium seed, oat bran and pectin found in apples. Insoluble fibre such as wheat bran can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. When boosting fibre, be sure to drink plenty of water.
Fish oil supplement – Fish oil is an anti-inflammatory and it can help soothe an irritated gut. When purchasing fish oil, look for the word 'distilled' on the product to ensure you are getting high quality oil. Store your oil in the refrigerator.
Dr. Joey Shulman DC, registered nutritionist is the founder of Shulman Weight Loss Clinic. Her latest release Healthy Sin Foods – Decadence without the Guilt (Penguin, Nov. 09) is in stores now. For more information, please visit www.drjoey.com.
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