Natural Remedies That Work: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
by Jini Patel Thompson
As far as diseases go, bowel disorders are definitely at the bottom of the list (no pun intended). People will quite openly discuss breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia or brain tumors. But get anywhere near the colon and people get uncomfortable. Well, it's understandable really, how do you mention in polite conversation: 'I had the runs yesterday and my colon was spasming so much I actually pooped myself in the car because I couldn't make it home on time.' What would someone say in response to that anyway? Or, try explaining to your boss why it's not a good idea to have you as the chief presenter at an important client meeting. 'Well, first I'll be constipated for at least 3 days prior, due to the anticipation of being in the spotlight. Then, about 5 minutes before the meeting starts I'll get the runs and spend the next 2 hours excusing myself every 10-15 minutes to rush off to the bathroom.'Although people don't talk about it much, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a widespread disorder that affects about 50 million Americans and could easily lead to either of the situations above. However, for an illness with such a high incidence rate, it receives very little discussion and virtually no media attention. Again, we run into the same problem. What news announcer wants to talk about bowel movements on the air and how exactly would you go about attracting a big corporate sponsor to fund research and awareness? The symptoms of IBS are varied and can involve any number and combination of the following: Diarrhea, intestinal cramping/spasming, constipation, gas/flatulence, heartburn, indigestion, pain upon eating or defecating, hemorrhoids, or anal fissures (small tears in the anus often caused by frequent bowel movements, or, excessive straining and hard stools). Depending on the severity, combination, and frequency of symptoms, IBS can be a minor annoyance, or, something that really interferes with your quality of life. Unfortunately, the drug treatment protocols for IBS are not very effective in the long-term and some of them have side-effects that are often worse than the original symptoms. For example, I once took an anti-diarrhea medication that made me bloat like a pelican's gullet and expel big, loud, smelly farts all day - I preferred the diarrhea. The good news is there are many natural treatments for IBS that are quite effective and work to heal your body synergistically. Obviously, complete treatment for IBS could easily fill a book and indeed many have been written. However, even if you haven't been diagnosed with a bowel problem, these remedies will work to heal whatever irregularity you're experiencing. Here are just a few natural treatments for some of the most pressing symptoms of an irritable bowel:
The easiest remedy for constipation is simply to increase your intake of vitamin C (in ascorbic acid form) and magnesium. Vitamin C is an excellent immune booster with many extensive clinical trials showing large doses to be quite safe. About 40% of Americans are deficient in magnesium so this is a mineral you probably will only benefit from - the only side-effect of magnesium is diarrhea. Start at 2000 mg vitamin C and 200 mg magnesium per day. You can increase up to 6000 mg of vitamin C and 1000 mg of magnesium. For maintenance, eat lots of fresh fruit and 'non-scratchy' complex carbohydrates (zucchini, carrots, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, etc.) and drink at least 8-10 glasses of spring or filtered water per day. Perform the colonic massage technique listed below several times a day and especially when you feel the urge to have a bowel movement.
An amino acid called L-Glutamine is the best remedy I've come across for diarrhea and it works very quickly (within 2-3 days usually). It's virtually tasteless and dissolves easily in water. Start with 1/4 tsp. per day mixed in cold or room-temperature water and drink it on an empty stomach. If that's not enough, increase to 1/4 tsp. two or three times a day. Then increase the dosage gradually (if you need it) to 1/2 tsp. then 3/4 tsp., up to 1 tsp. two or three times a day. L-Glutamine directly nourishes and heals the mucosal lining of the intestine and causes the bowel to reabsorb the water in your stool, thus reducing the number and frequency of bowel movements. Do not use if you have any liver or kidney disease.Avoid diarrhea-causing foods such as refined sugar, refined flour (white, bleached), hydrogenated fats, caffeine, and acidic, tomato-based foods like spaghetti sauce and pizza. Most people find coffee (regular or decaffeinated) highly irritating as well. Anyone with IBS should automatically avoid processed foods, luncheon meats or hot dogs, and foods with artificial flavor/color, preservatives or msg. Colonic massage is also an excellent way to reduce the frequency of bowel movements as the massage helps move all the separate little stool deposits around the colon and out at once, rather than in many separate bowel movements (see the Colonic Massage section below).
Heartburn is caused by stomach acid (generated by digestion) washing back up the throat and is best treated with a multi-pronged approach:
- Avoid acidic foods and drink eg. tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, alcohol, lemons, etc.
- Also avoid chocolate, peppermint, spearmint, high fat foods, and caffeine - especially in the evening.
- Avoid lying down or reclining for 2 hours after eating.
- Before bed or on an empty stomach, slowly sip 1/2 cup of George's Roadrunner Aloe Vera Juice. This is my favorite brand of aloe vera juice as it contains no irritants or laxative components and just tastes like distilled water. If you can't get George's Roadrunner brand, then look for one that has no added ingredients or preservatives and has the Aloin (laxative component) removed. It should be perfectly clear in color (like water).
- Gently massage your esophageal valve by rubbing gently just under your solar plexus and stroking downwards toward your belly button.
- When you go to sleep, lie on your left side. Your stomach opens up to your left and this encourages the food and acids to stay in your stomach and away from your esophageal valve.
You can also visit a craniosacral therapist or osteopathic doctor who can release or 'unstick' your esophageal valve. Usually, 10 minutes is all it takes for me and then no more heartburn.
Perform the massage either sitting on the toilet or lying down with your knees bent. Make a fist with your right hand and massage your colon using a digging, circular motion with your knuckles. Start at the lower right quadrant of your abdomen (just inside your hip bone) and work up to under the right side of your ribcage, then straight across, then down the left quadrant of your abdomen and when you get to just inside your left hip bone, massage in towards your groin/pubic bone. The idea is to massage the length of your colon which starts at the lower right quadrant of your abdomen and then up in a horseshoe shape under the ribs and down to the lower left quadrant of your abdomen. The rectal canal then extends from the lower left quadrant diagonally across to the groin (or pubic bone). Repeat this massage several times experimenting with varying pressure and your massage technique. This is a fantastic technique that can be used by anyone during, or to encourage, a bowel movement. It also relieves colic in newborns by helping them expel gas and stool.
As with any illness or disorder of the body, full healing can only be effected when the emotional and mental components are also addressed. Anger, fear and anxiety are emotions that are typically stored and expressed in the gut. This is clearly evidenced in our language - how often have you heard expressions like, 'his guts were churning with anxiety', or, 'the bile rose in her throat whenever she thought about what he'd done', or, 'her stomach clenched in fear'. In fact, what do people do when faced with extreme violence or fear? They often urinate or defecate uncontrollably.
Any bodywork therapies that utilize somato-emotional release will be very healing to people with IBS. Somato(body)-emotional release is based on the premise that emotional trauma is actually stored in the physical tissues of the body - not just in the mind or soul. When you release the event, or memory, or feeling at this level, the catharsis is particularly effective and healing. Therapies like craniosacral, acupuncture, reiki and other forms of energy healing can all facilitate somato-emotional release. It's best to look for a therapist that specifically lists somato-emotional release as part of their practice. Choose your practitioner the same way you'd choose a counselor, make sure it's someone with legitimate qualifications that you feel comfortable and safe with.
I once went to a craniosacral therapist who specialized in somato-emotional release. We started first with my neck and he began by just holding it as I lay on my back (fully clothed). Then, as I relaxed, he slowly began to rotate my head gently to the left and up a bit. Much to my surprise, I immediately experienced a technicolor memory of being beaten as a child. Even more surprising, I re-experienced the fear and anger I had felt then and tears began streaming down my face. When he sensed the emotion was getting a bit much for me, he gently moved my head back to its former position and the memory, the feelings, and the tears disappeared instantly! I was back to the jolly self I walked in there as. I lay there laughing over how bizarre that was and wiped the tears away. He waited for me to relax again and then moved my head back to the same position and immediately I was back in the memory crying away again. He continued this process until I had worked through the memory and released it. Then he moved on to work with other parts of my body.
A friend of mine would experience visions and feel as though she left her body during certain acupuncture sessions. Another friend re-experienced and released a memory of childhood sexual abuse when the craniosacral therapist began working on her arm. You wouldn't think a sexual abuse memory would be stored in someone's arm, but the memory began with her being forcefully grabbed at the elbow and marched up the stairs, so that's where her body stored it. Another woman I know feels distinctly linked with her inner child whenever her energy healer works on her colon. She cries throughout the session and sometimes for a while afterwards, but for the next few days experiences no symptoms of bowel distress whatsoever. Going beyond the psychological, talk-therapy approach and into the body itself can be a very profound and deeply healing experience. Meditation, in whichever form you prefer, is also beneficial. Different people have different ways of meditating and you don't have to sympathize with Eastern philosophies to be able to meditate. Many people feel a walk through the woods, or along the beach, communing with nature soothes their soul and quiets their mind. If you're a Christian, the next time you're praying, stop talking to God/Jesus and just listen. Spend 15 minutes or so simply being open and let God speak to you. Don't worry if you don't hear/feel/sense anything right away, be persistent and it will come. There are many routes to healing and each person has to find their own particular path. Just try to keep in mind that the easiest treatment protocol (for example, popping a pill) is not always the best for your body long-term. Experience teaches us it's best to seek out ways of healing that work holistically and heal the whole body in an integrated, long-lasting manner.
© Jini Patel Thompson
Jini Patel Thompson is the author of Listen To Your Gut: Natural Healing & Dealing With Inflammatory Bowel Disease & Irritable Bowel Syndrome.