Managing IBS with herbs that help
April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome month. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
If you suffer from irritable bowel, you're not alone. IBS is a common condition that affects an estimated 1.4 million people in the UK. Twice as many women than men are thought to experience IBS.
People with IBS report symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, heartburn, bloating and stomach cramps.
What are the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS symptoms may come and go, or they may be constant, the condition affects each person differently.
Common symptoms of IBS include:
- changes to bowel habits such as diarrhoea, constipation or a combination of the two
- stomach cramps or pain that eases when the bowels are emptied
- bloating or hardness of the stomach
- a feeling that the bowels haven't emptied sufficiently
- symptoms that get worse after eating
- mucus in stools
According to the Rome III Diagnostic Criteria, IBS is usually diagnosed after you have experienced symptoms, on a regular basis, for 6 months and when tests prove that there is no other cause for your symptoms.
The condition is usually diagnosed after all other possible causes have been eliminated. This is known as diagnosis by exclusion. It is important that other conditions are ruled out as conditions such as Ulcerative Colitis, Diverticulitis, Crohn's Disease, Coeliac Disease and Colon Cancer can present with similar symptoms; particularly in the early stages.
*** It is vital that you see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- bleeding from the back passage
- blood in stools
- a lump or swelling in the back passage or stomach
- unexplained weight loss
- unexplained fever
- unexplained changes in bowel habit
- persistent or severe vomiting
Herbs That May Help With Irritable Bowel Syndrome
One way Western herbal medicine describes herbs is by the actions they have on the body. Current research confirms many of these herbal actions. For example, Meadowsweet, has been used traditionally as an anti-inflammatory and anti-pyretic (something that brings a temperature down). Research has confirmed the presence of salicylates, which are similar in action to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).
Adaptogens:Adoptogens increase resistance to the negative effects of stress - known to exacerbate IBS symptoms - by supporting the function of the endocrine and adrenal systems.
Anti-inflammatories:Anti-inflammatory herbs help alleviate inflammation of the large and small intestine, an important first step in the healing process.
Antispasmodics:Anti-spasmodic herbs prevent, reduce and ease stomach cramps by relaxing contractions of the smooth muscle of the intestinal system.
Anti-microbial:Anti-microbial herbs fight infections; they also help to strengthen the body's natural defence system.
Astringents:Astringent herbs cause contraction of the body's tissues and make them stronger. They are useful for people with diarrhoea predominant IBS.
Bitters:Bitter herbs are used to strengthen the digestive system. They stimulate production of digestive enzymes and enhance the break down and absorption of food.
Carminatives:Carminatives are traditionally used to dispel gas, reduce nausea and improve digestion. They work by reducing the amount of gas formed in the gut, increasing peristalsis within the gut and by increasing blood flow through the gut wall to encourage transportation of gas from the gut.
Mucilaginous:Mucilaginous herbs soothe and coat irritated mucosal tissue of the intestines to prevent irritation of the nerve endings and promote healing.
*** The following herbs can be used to support IBS ***
Meadowsweet - (Filipendula ulmaria)
Actions:Antacid, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, astringent.
Therapeutic properties:An excellent antacid and antispasmodic that can relieve the pain, irritation and cramping associated with IBS. Astringent properties help to heal and protect the gut lining.
Cautions:Do not take Meadowsweet if allergic to salicylates or aspirin, warfarin.
German Chamomile- (Matricaria recutita)
Actions:Relaxant, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic.
Therapeutic properties:Traditionally known as the "mother of the gut" German chamomile alleviates flatulence, muscle contractions and irritation of the gut and is useful in treating stress-related IBS. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties.
Cautions:Can cause dermatitis i.e. irritation of the skin if you have an allergy to the Asteraceae plant family.
Cinnamon- (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Actions:Antibacterial, antifungal, astringent, antibacterial, carminative.
Therapeutic properties:Helpful for stomach upsets, flatulence, nausea, bloating and diarrhoea. Enhances digestion and protects the gut lining.
Cautions:Avoid during pregnancy.
Licorice- (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Actions:Adaptogen, carminative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory (similar action to cortisone), antiviral, demulcent.
Therapeutic properties:Calms irritated mucous membranes. Useful for heartburn and indigestion as it lowers stomach acid.
Cautions:Avoid if you have high blood pressure and during pregnancy.
Agrimony - (Agrimonia eupatoria)
Actions:Astringent, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic.
Therapeutic properties:Enhances digestion and improves bowel function. Protects the gut lining from irritation. Useful for treating diarrhoea.
Cautions:Avoid with blood thinning drugs such as warfarin. Proceed with caution with diabetes drugs.