With all sorts of engaging ads for pills that promise a quick fix for irritable bowel syndrome (commonly known as "IBS"), drug companies would have us believe this is an actual disease, with an easy and effective treatment. Not so fast, warns our digestion guru Andrew L. Rubman, ND. This very common syndrome, affecting one in five adult Americans, some say, could be called "irregular" bowel syndrome in some cases, since it can interfere with regularity. The symptoms of IBS may include constipation, bloating, gas or diarrhea. He told me that while many people experience uncomfortable and even painful digestive disturbances, "IBS" has become a catchall term used by the pharmaceutical companies to sell more drugs. Yet if you speak to sufferers of IBS, many will readily tell you that the medications are not terribly effective for them... and if the drugs aren't taken regularly, the problems return. In contrast, Dr. Rubman has worked with patients for more than 25 years to restore regular digestive function in IBS sufferers, using non-pharmaceutical products in combination with simple adjustments to diet and lifestyle.
WHAT IS IBS?
Unlike more serious intestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, IBS does not increase the risk of colorectal cancer, and in most people the symptoms are mild. The primary characteristic is a gastrointestinal disturbance. The more changes that occur in your daily bowel movements -- differences in the frequency or consistency of stools, the presence of pain or cramping, etc. -- the more important it is to deal with them, notes Dr. Rubman.
Common symptoms of IBS include...
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Abdominal cramping or pain
Diarrhea, constipation or alternating bouts of both
Mucus in the stool
When you experience digestive problems, don't automatically reach for a pill, advises Dr. Rubman. Just because these sorts of intestinal symptoms have been labeled IBS doesn't mean medication is the best or the only answer. In fact, taking pills may cause a need for other ones, because they so often generate side effects. It's worth noting that the medications specifically approved for IBS -- alosetron hydrochloride for diarrhea and tegaserod maleate for constipation -- have serious side effects, including even more severe constipation or diarrhea and decreased blood flow to the colon, which may lead to even more digestive problems and diseases.
Sometimes medication may prove necessary, but often you'll do better to identify and address the underlying causes of the digestive problem. According to Dr. Rubman, the proper functioning of your digestive system has an awful lot to do with what you put in your mouth, what happens to it before it reaches the large intestine, and whether you have the appropriate balance of bacteria in your large intestine. Dr. Rubman has some simple and practical suggestions on how you can consistently support your body's normal bowel function and bacterial balance in a safe and natural way...
Be picky about what you eat and drink. Avoid sodas and other sugary treats, caffeine, alcohol and fried or processed foods, all of which impede digestion. Try to eat more whole foods, healthy fats (e.g., found in salmon, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds) and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and steamed veggies. What about yogurt that contains live cultures, which is often recommended to encourage bacterial balance in the intestines? According to Dr. Rubman it's fine, but don't expect a miracle cure. In his view, this promise is yet another marketing scam. A better alternative is the use of other probiotics.
Monitor food combinations, as these directly influence how quickly and efficiently food is digested, explains Dr. Rubman. For example, don't combine "white" foods (such as white sugar, white flour, white bread, white potatoes, etc.) with saturated fats (for example, red meat or dairy products). Taken together, these can require as long as two to three hours to digest, during which time microorganisms in the food can colonize the stomach lining and cause digestive disturbances.
Keep fluids with meals to a minimum, and chew food thoroughly. The natural process by which saliva is added to food as it is chewed, to break it down thoroughly in the mouth, sets the rest of the digestive process in motion. So, our habit of washing down food with water or other beverages turns out to be counter-productive. Fluids may also dilute stomach acid, making digestion less efficient.
If you are 35 or older, consider taking supplemental digestive enzymes. Since aging tends to diminish our digestive enzymes, taking a them as a supplement helps the body break down foods into compounds that make nutrients easier to digest, and also work to decrease the number of colonized microorganisms in the stomach. Other digestive aids Dr. Rubman prescribes for his patients include hydrochloric acid supplements, which act as a tonic to the upper GI tract, soothing inflammation and allowing for restoration of normal function and cellular health. (Note: As always, it is important to consult a qualified expert to determine which supplements are appropriate for you, and to provide oversight for your health and safety.)
Everyone has digestive disturbances at times. Do all you can to moderate your dietary habits to support good digestion... but, if IBS symptoms are a chronic problem, see a trained medical professional to help you resolve it. As I say time and time again, drugs aren't always the solution. Even if you are already working with a gastroenterologist you may want to consider adding an ND to your treatment team, as there are a number of safe, natural and effective steps your ND can recommend to get your system moving in the right direction again.
Sources:Andrew L. Rubman, ND, director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov
Reprinted with the permission of:
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