What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a functional disorder related to an irregular bowel movement. It affects nearly 9% – 21% of the general population and can significantly impact a person’s lifestyle and productivity. Mainly these conditions occur in people of age group between late teens to the early 40s. It is a chronic condition with very high chances of relapse with variations in the degree of severity.
It is not really a disease but actually a symptom of a cluster of disorders related to the digestive system such as a change in the gut flora, permeability of the intestine, brain-gut interactions, psychosocial status, and gut immune dysfunction.
While IBS does not cause any permanent harm to intestines or to any chronic health disorder, it is highly uncomfortable due to malfunctioning of intestinal muscles and can trigger a lot of mental and physical stress. Modern lifestyle has taken its toll even on the young population and Irritable Bowel Syndrome has become very common.
Persistent stress, pollution, untimely eating, and incompatible foods are some of the reasons that are leading to this health disorder. Therefore, many people want to change their work schedule, timing or avoid doing any work.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS
People with IBS have different types of symptoms that can include constipation and diarrhea. The different types of constipation occur due to IBS are constipation (IBS-C), IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), mixed IBS (IBS-M) with both constipation and diarrhea. For all cases of IBS, the stool could be hard, thin, soft or in liquid form.
Many people go through severe symptoms right after the meals or after the consumption of meals rich in complex carbohydrates, caffeine, spices, lactose, fatty foods, or alcoholic drinks. Most people with IBS find that the symptoms are worse or more frequent during periods of increased stress, such as finals week or the first weeks on a new job. Women are twice as likely to have it during menstruation indicating aggravation by reproductive hormones.
Sometimes other illnesses such as infectious diarrhea or too many bacteria in the intestines can be the reason behind it. It is important to see your doctor if you have a persistent change in bowel habits or if you have any other signs of IBS. The usual symptoms are as follows:
- Abdominal pain – A feeling of cramping or bloating, pain in the lower half of the belly which is usually eased or partly eased after passing a bowel movement.
- Formation of excess gas in the stomach
- Diarrhea mostly with violent ones
- Constipation is sometimes alternating with painful episodes of diarrhea
- An occurrence of mucus in the stool. Stools may be harder or smoother, or ribbon-shaped
- Some people also suffer from urinary symptoms or sexual problems.
Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS
According to Ayurveda, IBS happens as a result of the accumulation of toxins within the body, which in turn is triggered by multiple factors including diet, lifestyle, and environment. In Ayurveda, Toxin or “Ama” accumulation along with the imbalance of Vata Dosha is responsible for IBS.
Vata resides primarily in the colon and is responsible for all motions inside the body including excretion. Hence, when Vata is out of balance, IBS symptoms become prominent including irregular bowel movement, bloating, hair fall, fatigue, and excessive weight loss.
Contractions of muscles in the intestine – There are layers of muscle present on the walls of the intestines which contract with the moving of food through the digestive tract. When the contractions are stronger and continue for a longer time than normal can create gas, bloating and diarrhoea. On the other hand, weak intestinal contractions can reduce the flow of food passage and cause constipation and hard, dry stools.
Inflammation in the intestines -There is a much higher number of immune system cells present in the intestine of some people with IBS. These cells are responsible for causing pain and diarrhea.
Problems in the nervous system. Differmities in the nerves of the digestive system may make you feel uncomfortable. You can feel more uncomfortable when your abdomen enlarges due to gas or stool. Because of poor coordination between the brain and the intestines, your body overreacts to change than it does normally. Therefore, the digestive process decreases and it gives rise to pain, diarrhoea or constipation.
Severe infection- Severe infection can be another cause of IBS. After a severe bout of diarrhoea (gastroenteritis) due to bacteria or a virus, this problem can occur. IBS occurs due to bacterial overgrowth or a surplus of bacteria in the intestines.
Changes in bacteria in the Gut- Microflora, the “good” bacteria are found in the intestines and these play a key role in keeping us healthy. Research reveals that there are some differences between the microflora in people with IBS and healthy people.
Triggers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS
Besides the above causes, there are some other things which make the symptoms worsen and we call them triggers. Here are some examples of triggers.
Many people suffer from IBS or their IBS symptoms get worsened by eating or drinking specific foods or beverages. For example, dairy products, wheat products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, and carbonated drinks worsen the symptoms of IBS.
In comparison to men, women are more susceptible to have IBS. It happens due to some hormonal changes. Many women experience the signs and symptoms of IBS getting worse during or around their menstrual periods.
Most of the time, people having IBS experience the signs and symptoms more when they are highly stressed. A lot of times psychosocial factors such as physical or mental abuse, bad experiences such as accidents, or loss of loved ones can lead one to stressful conditions and hence trigger IBS symptoms.
Antibiotics can worsen or trigger IBS as they impact our gut flora. Regular use or abuse of antibiotics can also be the cause of permanent alteration of gut biome and hence a condition as IBS
Ayurvedic Tips to manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS
IBS can be managed by bringing changes in diet and lifestyle such as tightly monitoring the quantity and type of food one eats. Managing stress and other direct causes will also significantly help in reducing or removing the symptoms.
There are many things that worsen the symptoms of IBS like certain foods, medicines, the presence of gas or stool, and mental stress. Therefore, the patient needs to know about the triggers and accordingly make changes in diet and lifestyle to avoid the triggers.
Ayurvedic Diet and Lifestyle Tips to treat IBS
- One should stop Vata Dosha promoting foods. These include heavy, gaseous, and hard to digest foods such as beans, cabbage, dairy products, spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks.
- Management of stress through relaxation techniques such as meditation, music, and massage.
- Avoid the consumption of processed foods. Processed foods contain allergens that would trigger inflammation and immune response leading to IBS symptoms.
- Avoid untimely meals – One should eat at a fixed time and in a fixed quantity. Following a routine helps to bring the Vata Dosha in balance.
- Eat foods and drinks that can help to flush toxins out such as juices, unctuous and hydrating fruits, and vegetables.
- Consume soft and easy to digest foods such as khichari and porridge.
- Include daily work out regime, preferably in the form of brisk walks or swimming. Do not carry out strenuous physical activity, as it will aggravate Vata, instead follow calm, relaxing, and toning activities in nature.
- Sip warm/hot teas such as cumin tea, fennel tea, and ginger tea.
- Consume flax seed and psyllium husk in the night.
- Stop smoking.
- Hydrate with water and natural drinks such as coconut water.
- Reduce and manage stress. Avoid stressful situations and triggers. Additionally, practice mindfulness through exposure to open and natural spaces, reading books, listening to music, pursuing healthy habits, disconnecting from the internet and social media, and by spending time with loved ones.
- Avoid large meals and start with small 4-5 meals instead of 3 big ones. More often than not large meals cause cramps and burden the digestive system.
- Limit the intake of milk or other dairy products.
- Increase physical activity such as yoga to strengthen abdominal muscles. Stronger muscles are able to handle cramps and gas much better.
- Maintain a record of the foods you eat by which you can trace the foods that cause bouts of IBS.
Avoiding the foods that trigger IBS
- Red peppers, green onions, red wine, wheat, and cow’s milk are some examples of foods that trigger IBS. If you want to get the same food value that provides the triggers, you can eat spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, yoghurt, tofu, sardines, salmon with bones, calcium-fortified orange juice and bread, etc.
- Fried and greasy foods lead to the production of cholecystokinin hormone that induces contractions in the colon and hence making the pain or symptoms of IBS worse.
- Avoid irritants such as caffeinated drinks – coffee and tea, Soda, Alcohol, and Nicotine.
- Avoid chewing gums, mint, and tobacco products that introduce excess air into the body through the digestive tract.