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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – How can a Naturopath Help?

There are many ways a Naturopath can help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Not all IBS patients present with an identical set of symptoms. Because of this, a naturopath will first consider the full case history to understand the patient’s unique presentation. Then they can more effectively formulate a treatment plan, which may involve all or some of the following:

  1. Herbal medicine to help reduce symptoms. For example, a naturopath may make a herbal preparation formulated to reduce constipation (or diarrhea), calm the nervous system and reduce sensitivity to pain, kill pathogenic microbes in the gut and reduce gut inflammation.   Certain nutritional medicines are also available to help to diminish visceral hypersensitivity and reduce pain perception.
  2. A major part of any naturopathic treatment plan for IBS will involve working with the patient to identify specific foods that aggravate their set of symptoms. This may involve guiding the patient through the FODMAPS diet or investigating IgG food sensitivities or intolerances to help formulate a meal plan that works for them. The meal plan should ensure adequate levels of all macro and micronutrients so that the patient is not left nutrient deficient when following a modified diet./li>
  3. A naturopath will also work to ensure adequate hydration and fiber as both of these can be an issue in constipation and diarrhea.
  4. In many IBS cases, there is altered gut micro flora. Various herbal medicines exert an antimicrobial action in the gut and can be used along with appropriate pro and prebiotics to ensure a healthy balance of gut micro flora.  It is important to remember not all probiotics are the same, and different strains work in different parts of the digestive tract and do different things. A naturopath can help you understand which probiotic will work for you.
  5. Altered gut motility or food sensitivities or intolerances can produce inflammation in the lining of the gut wall. Inflammation can exacerbate pain so getting it under control is important. Naturopaths have a variety of anti inflammatory medicines available.
  6. Supporting the relationship between the nervous system and gut function is integral in the naturopathic treatment of IBS. The brain sends messages to the gut via the nervous system. If the nervous system is in overdrive (stress) or underactive (depression), the gut will receive mixed messages. This can contribute the diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, pain, and abdominal distention. Herbal and nutritional medicine can support these nervous system pathways to help normalize the communication between the brain and the digestive tract and reduce IBS symptoms.
  7. A big part of IBS is the pain and discomfort it causes. A naturopath can prescribe a variety of herbal and nutritional medicines such as peppermint and caraway to help decrease visceral hypersensitivity and therefore reduce pain.
  8. A good naturopath will go beyond the diet and gut function in supporting a patient with IBS. Appropriate and realistic lifestyle modifications to improve quality of life and a patient’s relationship with food and stress can go a long way in helping to reduce IBS symptoms. This may involve exercise recommendations such as yoga, tai chi, a walk around the park, or breathing and meditation techniques like yoga nidra, which can calm the nervous system and relax the gut. Abdominal massage may also help along with simple tips on how and when to eat.

It is important to remember that no two patients are the same, and what works for one may not work for another. If you would like more information about IBS or digestion issues, or would like to book an appointment with naturopath Kathleen McFarlane, please contact us today.