Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition in which the large intestine, or colon, fails to operate normally. It is a functional disorder, since there is no evidence of structural damage to the intestine. Symptoms include pain, constipation, diarrhea, gas, nausea, anorexia, and anxiety or depression.15 The cause is unknown, but food allergies, excess dietary fats, and stress seem to be implicated in IBS. Treatment of IBS aims to reduce the irritation to the digestive system and therefore relies on dietary changes, herbal remedies, and stress reduction.
The usual treatment for IBS is to increase dietary fiber. To avoid food sensitivities (not allergies, since there does not seem to be an immune component in IBS), fiber from a source other than grains is recommended, such as vegetables, fruits, oat bran, guar gum, psyllium, and legumes (beans and peas). According to James Braly, M.D., of Hollywood, Florida, nuts, seeds, and fruit with small seeds (such as raspberries) should be avoided, as should alcohol, caffeine, and spices. Dr. Braly notes that supplements should include zinc, vitamin A, and evening primrose oil.
Enteric-coated peppermint oil is used in Europe to treat IBS. Without enteric coating, the peppermint oil is absorbed in the upper digestive tract, often causing heartburn and esophageal reflux (stomach acid regurgitating into the esophagus). Ginger also has a long history of use to relieve digestive complaints.16 Herbs such as chamomile, valerian, rosemary, and balm have antispasmodic effects on the intestines.