Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the colon in which peristalsis (the rhythmical wave-like muscular contractions that push the faeces along the bowel) becomes dysfunctional. It may affect as many as 15-30% of Australians.


  • Abdominal pain, cramping and colic
  • Altered bowel function
  • Constipation and/or Diarrhoea - sometimes alternating
  • Mucus or food particles may be visible in the stool
  • The need to defecate may arise quickly and urgently - sometimes shortly after eating
  • Flatulence, Bloating and abdominal distension
  • Other (less frequent) symptoms may include Indigestion, Nausea, Fatigue and excessive levels of digestive gurgling
  • Symptoms may be worse during periods of Stress or emotional upset
  • Women are more likely to be affected than men


  • The effects of abnormal peristalsis sometimes lead to delayed emptying of the bowel (constipation) and sometimes to more rapid evacuation of the faeces (diarrhoea); some people tend to experience one of these symptoms more frequently (i.e. they are Constipation-dominant or Diarrhoea-dominant), while others experience alternating symptoms
  • Some cases of irritable bowel syndrome are triggered by a bout of food poisoning, the use of antibiotics, laxative abuse or other circumstances that interfere with the health and balance of the beneficial bacteria in the bowel
  • Genetic factors are not thought to be involved, however irritable bowel syndrome does sometimes affect more than one family member, suggesting that dietary or environmental issues affecting the family may contribute to the problem
  • Hormonal issues may contribute too; some women experience changes in their symptoms at different phases of their menstrual cycle, or after Menopause
  • Dietary factors that contribute may include the consumption of foods to which the sufferer is allergic or intolerant (including lactose), excessive quantities of caffeine, carbonated beverages, simple sugars and artificial sweeteners (e.g. aspartame)

Nutritional & Herbal Support

  • Taking probiotic supplements such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium longum helps restore the balance of the intestinal bacteria and normalise bowel habits. Oligofructose (sometimes called fructo-oligosaccharides) can be taken at the same time as probiotics to encourage and support re-colonisation by the friendly bacteria
  • Taking a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement works with your body's own gastric secretions to enhance your digestion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and cellulose, and consequently may reduce symptoms of flatulence and bloating. Look for a formula that also contains herbs such as ginger and peppermint, which are traditionally taken to relieve symptoms of gastrointestinal cramping (colic) as well as other digestive symptoms such as Indigestion and Nausea
  • In irritable bowel syndrome, peppermint is also sometimes taken in conjunction with activated charcoal to provide natural relief from flatulence, bloating, gas and wind. The peppermint oil has a calming and anti-spasmodic effect on the gastrointestinal tract, while charcoal relieves discomfort by acting as a natural adsorbent, absorbing unwanted toxins and accumulated wind
  • Slippery elm bark contains mucilage, which forms a gel-like substance during the digestive process, soothing the mucous membranes of the digestive tract and easing the passage of the faeces
  • Take extra magnesium, which supports the body's ability to cope with Stress and has a relaxing effect on muscle tension and cramps, including those in the gastrointestinal tract
  • Calming herbs such as valerian, skullcap and hops may also help to relieve Muscle Cramps and spasms, and have additional benefits during times of nervous tension and Stress, especially when taken in combination with potassium phosphate, calcium phosphate and magnesium phosphate
  • Liver-cleansing herbs such as milk thistle, globe artichoke and schisandra improve Sluggish Liver function by increasing bile output, which in turn stimulates peristalsis and helps relieve Constipation

Diet & Lifestyle advice

  • Severe, recurrent or persistent Diarrhoea or Constipation may be indicative of underlying disease, and require medical investigation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome is a complex condition, but often responds well to natural therapies. Consult your healthcare professional, who can develop an appropriate treatment plan for your individual circumstances, and arrange testing for food allergies and intolerances
  • Drink at least two litres of water every day to ease the passage of the faeces during Constipation and guard against dehydration during Diarrhoea. An electrolyte-replacement formula is highly recommended if Diarrhoea has occurred
  • If you experience Constipation, increase your consumption of fibre from whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, rather than taking laxatives, which may exacerbate the problem. Sources of soluble fibre, such as oats, psyllium and vegetables, may be particularly beneficial
  • Take care with flatulence,-promoting foods, such as legumes, onions and cabbage, which may exacerbate symptoms in some people
  • Learn and practice meditation or relaxation techniques in order to improve your ability to cope with Stress
  • Regular exercise and activity are vital for mental health, and can help to improve Stress levels, Depression, low moods and Anxiety as well as Constipation. Even a brisk 30-minute walk has health benefits, but other options include swimming, yoga and going to the gym

If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.

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