IT is estimated that one in six people in Britain are affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a long-term condition that causes re-occuring pain in the abdomen and an altered bowel habit.
It can develop at any age, but most people start developing symptoms between the ages of 15 and 40, and, typically, more women than men are affected.
Symptoms can vary greatly but tend to include discomfort in the abdomen, bloatedness, constipation, diarrhoea, excessive wind and/or indigestion.
Pinpointing a cause can be tricky as there are several contributing factors thought to make the condition worse.
Stress certainly seems to have its part to play. Many people report an increase in symptoms following a particularly stressful event, while specific foods, usually tea, coffee or fatty foods, are triggers for other people.
As you are probably already aware, there is no simple solution to IBS. But, depending on your individual symptoms, there are a number of lifestyle changes and remedies that can make a real difference.
If your main symptom is diarrhoea, try cutting down on tea, coffee, alcohol, spicy food and artificial sweeteners, as these can increase your symptoms. Chamomile and Lemon Verbena tea are good alternatives to tea. The herb Tormentil can also help.
A member of the rose family, Tormentil has a high tannin content which accounts for its soothing, protective action on the digestive tract.
Tannins bind to the proteins present in the irritated lining of the bowel, providing a barrier against infective organisms and toxins. They also slow down the frequency of bowel motions, giving an inflamed bowel time to heal.
If bloating is a problem, a food diary will help you to pinpoint and eliminate specific triggers.
For bloating associated with feelings of fullness and wind, try Digestisan. It contains Cynara (Artichoke), Dandelion and Boldo to help stimulate digestive enzymes, and Peppermint to help reduce the symptoms of colic and wind.
Dilute 15 to 20 drops three times a day in a little water. And for a helping hand with breaking your food down more effectively, a prebiotic supplement like Molkosan Vitality taken half an hour before each meal can help.
For constipation, you should try introducing more fibre-rich foods, such as wholefoods, brown rice and pasta, nuts, seeds and fresh fruit and vegetables, but do so gradually. Some fibre-rich foods, such as beans and green vegetables (cabbage and broccoli, for example) can cause gas and bloating. You should also make sure you drink plenty of water (not in coffee and tea, just good, old fashioned water) and drink it away from meals, so as not to dilute your digestive juices.
Without sufficient fluids, waste matter dries, making it harder to move through the bowel. Aim for between 1.5 to 2 litres water a day. For a real blast to get things moving again, try Linseed or Senna. Start with a low dose and only take for a short time.
If your symptoms are made worse by stress, learning stress-management or relaxation techniques may be useful.
Exercise is, of course, a great way of dealing with stress; it can also be very good for your digestive health – and sluggish bowels especially. Just 20 minutes a day should make a real difference.
Herbal remedies such as Passiflora and Avena sativa (oats) can also help with the symptoms of stress.
If symptoms have been present for a while and do not seem to be improving, it is important you consult your GP.
l For further advice, speak to Laura Williamson and her team at the Castletown Health and Beauty Store in Malew Street. Call 825812.
• IBS is one of the most common problems of the digestive system, affecting an estimated one in six people in the UK. Typically women are more likely to be affected than men.
• Symptoms vary from person to person but tend to include abdominal pain, bloating, an altered bowel habit and/or indigestion.
• Avoiding known triggers can help considerably. Caffeinated drinks and processed foods (that the body finds hard to digest) are common culprits.
• Regular exercise can help to reduce symptoms. It helps to keep your bowel movements regular and reduce stress, one of the more common underlying causes of IBS.