Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Homeopathy
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional bowel disorder characterized by mild to severe abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating and alteration of bowel habits. In some cases, the symptoms are relieved by bowel movements. Diarrhoea or constipation may predominate, or they may alternate. IBS is diagnosed when a person has abdominal pain or discomfort at least three times a month for the last 3 months without other disease or injury that could explain the pain. The pain or discomfort of IBS may occur with a change in stool frequency or consistency or may be relieved by bowel movement.
The causes of IBS are not well understood. Researchers believe a combination of physical and mental health problems can lead to IBS. The possible causes of IBS include the following:
Brain-gut signal problems: Signals between the brain and nerves of the small and large intestines, also called the gut, control how the intestines work. Problems with brain-gut signals may cause IBS symptoms, such as changes in bowel habits and pain or discomfort.
GI motor problems: Normal motility or movement may not be present in the colon of a person who has IBS. Slow motility can lead to constipation and fast motility can lead to diarrhoea. Spasms, or sudden strong muscle contractions that come and go, can cause abdominal pain. Some people with IBS also experience hyper reactivity, which is an excessive increase in contractions of the bowel in response to stress or eating.
Mental health problems: Mental health or psychological problems such as panic disorder, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are common in people with IBS. The link between these disorders and development of IBS is unclear. GI disorders, including IBS, are often found in people who have reported past physical or sexual abuse. Researchers believe people who have been abused tend to express psychological stress through physical symptoms.
Bacterial gastroenteritis: Some people who have bacterial gastroenteritis—an infection or irritation of the stomach and intestines caused by bacteria— develop IBS. Researchers do not know why gastroenteritis leads to IBS in some people and not others, though psychological problems and abnormalities of the lining of the GI tract may be factors.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): Normally, few bacteria live in the small intestine. SIBO is an increase in the number of bacteria or a change in the type of bacteria in the small intestine. These bacteria can produce excess gas and may also cause diarrhea and weight loss. However, the studies were weak and more research is needed to show a link between SIBO and IBS.
Body chemicals: People with IBS have altered levels of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the body that transmit nerve signals, and GI hormones, though the role these chemicals play in developing IBS is unclear.
Food sensitivity: Many people with IBS report that certain foods and beverages can cause symptoms, such as foods rich in carbohydrates, spicy or fatty foods, coffee, and alcohol. However, people with food sensitivity typically do not have clinical signs of food allergy. Researchers have proposed that symptoms may result from poor absorption of sugars or bile acids, which help break down fats and get rid of wastes in the body.
IBS can occur at any age, but it often begins in the teen years or early adulthood. It is twice as common in women as in men.
Stress and IBS
Stress can stimulate colon spasms in people with IBS. The colon has many nerves that connect it to the brain. These nerves control the normal contractions of the colon and cause abdominal discomfort during stressful times. In people with IBS, the colon can be overly responsive to even slight conflict or stress. Stress makes the mind more aware of the sensations that arise in the colon. IBS symptoms can also increase a person’s stress level. Some options for managing stress include:
- participating in stress reduction and relaxation therapies such as meditation
- getting counselling and support
- taking part in regular exercise such as walking or yoga
- minimizing stressful life situations as much as possible
- getting enough sleep
Symptoms range from mild to severe. Most people have mild symptoms. Symptoms are different from person to person. The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, fullness, gas, and bloating that have been present for at least 3 days a month for the last 3 months. The pain and other symptoms will often:
- Be reduced or go away after a bowel movement.
- Occur when there is a change in how often you have bowel movements.
- People with IBS may switch between constipation and diarrhoea, or mostly have one or the other.
- People with diarrhoea will have frequent, loose, watery stools. They will often have an urgent need to have a bowel movement, which may be hard to control.
- Those with constipation will have a hard time passing stool, as well as fewer bowel movements.
- They will often need to strain and will feel cramps with a bowel movement. Often, they do not release any stool, or only a small amount.
- For some people, the symptoms may get worse for a few weeks or a month, and then decrease for a while. For other people, symptoms are present most of the time.
- People with IBS may also lose their appetite.
Homoeopathic Approach to IBS*
Homoeopathy is a remarkable resource for those dealing with digestive disorders. Homeopathic constitutional treatment based on the individual case is the most suitable and would aim to heal the underlying physical or emotional crisis causing digestive disorders. The unique physical, emotional and mental expression of the illness is characteristic and is used to channel the course of homoeopathic treatment. The remedies work by stimulating body’s natural ability to heal itself, acting as a catalyst for healing. Homoeopathy can be of assistance in retrieving normal motility and treating any psychological issues related to IBS. Homeopathic remedies can help rebuild mind, body, and spirit as well as personal relationships for a balanced lifestyle. Homeopathy will reinforce and tone the body’s systems. Homeopathic remedies can help deal with anxiety, depression, and stress along with digestive problems. It will attend to nutritional problems and help the patient develop a healthier body image.
Management for IBS
The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms. Lifestyle changes can help in some cases of IBS. For example, regular exercise and improved sleep habits may reduce anxiety and help relieve bowel symptoms.
Dietary changes can be helpful. However, no specific diet can be recommended for IBS, because the condition differs from one person to another
Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhoea, so eating smaller meals more often, or eating smaller portions may help IBS symptoms. Eating meals that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables, may help.
Certain foods and drinks may cause IBS symptoms in some people, such as:
- foods high in fat
- milk products
- drinks with alcohol or caffeine drinks with large amounts of of artificial sweeteners, which are substances used in place of sugar
- foods that may cause gas, such as beans and cabbage
People with IBS may want to limit or avoid these foods. Keeping a food diary is a good way to track which foods cause symptoms so they can be excluded from or reduced in the diet.
Dietary fibre may lessen constipation in people with IBS, but it may not help with lowering pain. Fibre helps keep stool soft so it moves smoothly through the colon. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming 20 to 35 grams of fibre a day for adults. Fibre may cause gas and trigger symptoms in some people with IBS. Increasing fibre intake by 2 to 3 grams per day may help reduce the risk of increased gas and bloating.