January 26, 2018   By Kelly Bejelly

You are not alone if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  Mostly affecting women, IBS is a common occurrence thought to be mostly associated with poor diet and food allergies.  The symptoms can vary from gas, bloating, and cramps to constipation and diarrhea or a combination of all of these.  For the most part, lifestyle changes and medications can help bring relief and prevent further pain.  Understanding what you can do to relieve discomfort is an important place to beating IBS.

Reducing IBS symptoms and pain

The symptoms of IBS can vary from mild to severe.  If severe pain and discomfort persists, you need to consult a physician right away because it may be linked to a more serious condition.  When it comes to IBS, it doesn’t have to control or ruin your life.  There are a few things you can do to ease the pain and potentially eliminate the symptoms.  Diet has a lot to do with IBS and inflammation in the digestive tract so changing that can be a good first step.  There are also other techniques and applications you can use to help with stomach discomfort.

Your Diet and IBS

The most important thing to understand is that there are certain foods which will make IBS worse, so should be avoided..  

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Soda
  • Dairy products

These are the items to avoid if you are prone to IBS symptoms.  Additionally, if you are lactose intolerant, dairy needs to be avoided because it is the top suspect in IBS for those who have trouble digesting lactose.  You can choose to add probiotic foods like yogurt, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut to your diet to help offset any troubles dairy may cause.  

You want to be careful to keep up your intake of calcium and protein if you decide to avoid dairy.  When it comes to IBS, another culprit is heavy and greasy foods or a combination of the two.  High-FODMAP foods also increase IBS symptoms and need to be avoided.  Instead, choose to eat lighter meals with high protein foods such as turkey, broth or steamed vegetables. Just be sure to take it easy on the vegetables known to cause IBS.  

While many will report that fiber is bad for IBS, a certain amount daily can in fact, help symptoms.  Increasing fiber intake gradually over a few weeks can prevent constipation, which is a common symptom of IBS.  You need to be careful, however, because too much fiber can also worsen gas and bloating.  Where possible, choose fiber foods with psyllium rather than bran, as it is easier to digest for IBS sufferers.

One you have your food under control, you can look at adding certain teas to your daily routine to help calm any IBS symptoms that may be hanging around.  Tea is not only soothing to the body and brain; some help specifically soothe irritated stomachs. Chamomile tea is a desirable choice but only for those who do not have a strict low-FODMAP diet.  Anise and fennel teas are both excellent for relieving constipation and peppermint is probably the favorite for overall stomach pain relief.

It’s all in your mind

IBS symptoms are almost always associated with some kind of pain and pain causes us to get anxious.  The higher our anxiety levels are, the more we notice and focus on pain, which makes it seem worse.  The pain we feel from IBS is strongly associated with our brain and thought patterns.  

Because of this link, it is possible to get pain relief by calming the mind and relaxing.  When we relax, we can break away from the anxiety-pain cycle that we get drawn into and pain will subside.  Additionally, relaxing allows our muscles to calm down which can relieve cramping.  

Relaxation can be achieved through diaphragmatic deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization.  Visual imagery helps to refocus the mind away from pain and to promote healing.  Visualization has been shown to cause physical changes in your body, including a reduction of pain. Calling to mind certain images has been shown to relax your mind and subsequently, your body.  You can imagine a healing balm is poured on you and through you calming all inflamed tissue along the way.  Additionally, you can try to visualize a healing white light showering over you that swirls around you and through you, healing your aggravated digestive tract.

Along the lines of visualization, hypnotherapy has also been proven to relax the body and help relieve IBS pains.  If you suffer from IBS regularly, you will get the best results from ongoing therapy but if you are only looking for immediate relief, you can try a gut-directed hypnotherapy tape or downloadable app.  Hypnotherapy may not work for everyone, but if you have tried every other option with no success, this may be just the right avenue for you to explore.

Finally, a great way to relax the body and boost your overall health is through exercise.  Exercise not only helps reduce stress which can aggravate IBS, but it also promotes regular muscle contractions to keep your gut healthy.  Adding regular exercise to your daily routine is the best way to eliminate stress and IBS pain, but remember to start slowly if you are not used to a regular fitness regimen.  Aim for 30 minutes a day as a healthy goal and you will notice that IBS symptoms become a thing of the past.

Over the counter help

Symptoms like constipation and diarrhea have people headed right to the pharmacy for over-the-counter relief.  It is important to remember that laxatives and other medications may cause improvements, but they can also make things worse if not taken correctly.  You should always exercise caution when taking laxatives such as milk of magnesia and anti-diarrheal medications like Imodium.

If you want to avoid medications and drugs altogether you can opt for supplemental support for your IBS symptoms.  In fact, it may be a good idea to keep supplements with you at all times in case you are on the go when IBS strikes.  Peppermint oil is a popular supplement because it acts as an antispasmodic, which means it reduces muscle spasms and cramping.  Gas-relief options are also good by relieving the aches and pains associated with gas and abdominal bloating.  

You can also buy items that provide warmth to your stomach because heat had been proven to soothe the body as well as the mind.  If you choose to buy a heating pad, be sure to protect the skin with a towel or clothing.  A hot water bottle also provides heat and is great for use overnight.  A final purchase you can make is sports cream because topical applications deliver warmth to an irritated area as well as fast pain relief.

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