ASK THE NATUROPATH
Gentle, eff ective ways to treat disrupted digestion /// BY EMILY A. KANE, ND, LAC
Natural Solutions for IBS Natural ways to support digestion and get the nutrients you need.
QMy doctor says I have IBS. Another doctor told me that IBS is a “nonsense” diagnosis. Either way, my digestion isn’t right. Help! — Greta Y., Santa Barbara, Calif.
a:Irritable bowel syndrome ( IBS) has been in the medical news a lot lately because— guess what— it’s real, and increasingly common. Contrary to popular opinion, IBS does not cause colon or other cancers, but it can make your life uncomfortable, and if you have irregular and uncomfortable bowel movements, you should be evaluated for the possibility of a more serious disease.
IBS is distinct from infl ammatory bowel disease ( IBD), which is a more serious category of gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease ( ulcers in the small intestine) or ulcerative colitis ( bleeding from large intestine). IBS typically presents as chronic loose and urgent stools, often with cramping, and it’s not always easy to sort out the cause. This is partly because there is often an additional emotional component to IBS.
First, ask yourself if there is something you need to “purge” in your life— a bad relationship, a bad boss, a bad memory that may require ceremonial closure ( funerals are an example of ceremonial closure). The gut is your “second brain” and can react to emotions to a profound degree.
The “big 9” food irritants are wheat, dairy, soy, corn, caff eine, tomatoes, eggs, shellfi sh, and peanuts. However, fructose- induced diarrhea is not uncommon, and should be
a consideration, especially if you eat more than 2– 3 servings of fruit daily.
To fi gure out if a certain food is causing your symptoms, you need to completely avoid the potentially off ending food for 2– 3 weeks, then reintroduce it into your diet and watch for symptoms. IBS can also present with heartburn, fatigue, headache, back or abdominal pain, and even palpitations. If after 3 days of reintroduction there are no undesirable changes to your gut function, skin, mood, joint stiff ness, or other symptoms, that food is likely fi ne.
This takes careful organization of your diet, and it really helps to work with a licensed naturopathic physician or well- trained nutritionist ( not dietician). Some chiropractors also have additional nutrition training, but most MDs have very little training in nutrition, since they are experts in pharmaceutical medicine.
During the acute phase of IBS ( lots of watery stools and cramping), try a hypoallergenic diet ( see sidebar). As improvement occurs, eggs and yogurt ( preferably made from goat’s milk) can be added if they don’t worsen the symptoms. Supplements that often help heal and soothe the gut include liquid chlorophyll ( 1 Tbs. daily), alfalfa tabs, calming herbal teas ( Melissa, chamomile, fennel, peppermint, and ginger), and my favorite GI repair agent: glutamine, about 2 grams daily.
As your symptoms stabilize, you can slowly add the cruciferous vegetables back into your diet. These provide many important nutrients, but can be hard to digest, so are best cooked with digestion- aiding herbs such as fennel, caraway, cumin, anise, and dill. Nuts and seeds, grape skins, and red meat are also all diffi cult to digest, but may not be the causes of your GI distress.
Carrageenan is a common additive used to make ice cream and other confections “smooth,” but is very irritating to the gut. Avoid this additive when possible, which is used in a lab setting to make mice guts bleed. Very spicy and very sweet foods are also GI irritants, as are fried foods, alcohol, and caff eine.
Keep in mind that we’re exposed to more chemical additives than ever in our food and drink, so read labels and try to stick to food that is as close to the way it grew as possible when you eat it. And cook your food thoroughly. Well- cooked foods are much easier to digest than raw foods.
With acute crampy pain, heat to the abdomen ( hot water bottle or heating pad) can be very soothing. Regular exercise helps everything, including being a highly eff ective stress- reliever.
Always be sure to cook your food thoroughly. Well- cooked foods are much easier to digest than raw foods.
Emily A. Kane, ND, LAc, has a private naturopathic practice in Juneau, Alaska, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She is the author of two books on natural health, including Managing Menopause Naturally. Visit her online at dremilykane. com.