What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Dr. Brad Jacobs, MD, and chair of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board, talks to us about IBS symptoms and how to effectively manage them with simple changes to diet, lifestyle and supplementation.
The term Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be a catch-all term for digestive disturbances. “Typically people have bloating, pain, cramping, constipation and/or diarrhea,” says Dr. Jacobs. “Symptoms can go from mild to disrupting your ability to work and lead a normal life.”
IBS is usually diagnosed by the absence of evidence of other issues, such as food intolerance, or more serious issues such as Crohn’s Disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. That’s why it’s important to get a full examination by your primary care provider to ensure you don’t need to address something more serious. (Note: Blood or mucous in the stool can be an indication of these and should be discussed with your doctor immediately.)
Dr. Jacobs says that while doctors are still unsure of the causes of IBS, they do know that it involves the nervous system which affects the “motility” of the gut, or the way the bowels are able to move food through the digestive tract. Prescription drugs can help balance the nervous system to reduce symptoms, but Dr. Jacobs feels that the risks of these medications can outweigh the benefits. The good news is that IBS is manageable without prescriptions. “I see dramatic, life-altering results from the following recommendations,” he says.
Lifestyle: Diet, Sleep, and Exercise
“There’s a lot of research to show that regular exercise and sufficient sleep can help alleviate symptoms of IBS,” says Dr. Jacobs. In addition, he recommends getting at least 20-25 g of fiber a day—through whole grains or a gluten-free supplement like chia or flax—along with 8 glasses of water or tea to ensure the fiber is well digested (fiber can worsen symptoms otherwise).
Decreasing stress can dramatically improve IBS symptoms. “Try yoga, meditation or tai chi. These practices will help harmonize your nervous system and decrease your stress.”
Dr. Jacobs also recommends a good probiotic, especially one with at least 2 billion CFUs, and boosting your intake of food-based probiotics such as fermented foods and live culture yogurt.
“You can also attack specific symptoms like pain and cramping with natural supplements such as peppermint oil, which has anti-spasmodic properties (take twice daily), or digestive bitters such as fennel, mint or dandelion—to take before or with meals,” says Dr. Jacobs.
Dr. Jacobs is also a big proponent of an elimination diet to help identify any food intolerances that might be triggering IBS symptoms. This is part of what he calls the three Rs:
- Remove offending agents—such as food allergens
- Repair the gut tissue—with nutrients such as glutamine and zinc (find those in Metagenics’ Ultra InflamX)
- Restore good digestive function—with prebiotics and probiotics
Dr. Jacobs also encourages anyone suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to consider acupuncture, which has been shown to be very helpful in treating IBS, as it helps restore normal bowel function from a Chinese Medicine perspective.