by Stephanie Chambers and Dr. Christoph Streicher
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a complex condition which mainly affects women rather than men. Currently, over 58 million Americans suffer from it. Symptoms range from abdominal cramps to sometimes alternating experiences of diarrhea and constipation. Generally, most people tend to have one symptom more often (e.g. some people have diarrhea more often). For some, the symptoms are mild and for others, they are so severe that they feel the need to seek medical attention.
The cause is unknown, but experts think it might be a related to faulty communication between the brain and the intestinal tract. For example, this miscommunication may lead to more abdominal contractions than normal (leading to diarrhea) or less contractions (leading to constipation).
IBS risk factors
Many who have IBS have unusually sensitive intestines. For example, symptoms can arise because of one or more of these factors:
- The actual act of eating, even though no particular food has been linked to IBS.
- Stress and psychological issues like depression or anxiety. Some studies have also shown a link between the experience of trauma and the likelihood of gastrointestinal issues.
- Hormonal effects like PMS.
- Digestive tract infections (e.g. salmonella poisoning).
- Medications (e.g. antibiotics, which disrupt the normal intestinal flora).
There also seems to be some genetic component (e.g. a family history of IBS). It does appear more common in women, and also in people in their late 20s. People who have also had migraine headaches, depression or fibromyalgia seem to be more likely to develop it.
Although it doesn’t seem to be possible to prevent yourself from getting IBS, some people find that adopting a healthier lifestyle (reducing stress, stopping smoking, exercising regularly, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods and foods that make it worse for you) can help ease symptoms and increase the amount of time between bouts of the disease. Depending on the primary symptom, other changes can be made. For example, for constipation, more fiber can be added to the diet. For diarrhea, avoiding fruit juices and artificial sweeteners like sorbitol may help. Avoiding foods that are high in certain types of carbohydrates can help reduce bloating (see Essential Oils For Flatulence for more details).
If the symptoms are severe, a doctor should be consulted. He or she may carry out additional tests to check that another condition isn’t causing the symptoms. Although most doctors will recommend the lifestyle changes I mentioned, they sometimes prescribe medications for the pain, diarrhea or constipation. However, as with all medications, they do have side effects.
Changing the focus & essential oils for IBS
Quite naturally, people with the disease tend to focus on trying to work out what it is that they are eating that is causing the issues. But, instead, maybe they should be asking the question – why am I so sensitive in the first place? And how can I make myself less sensitive? What role can essential oils play in helping reduce this sensitivity?
As mentioned above, stress is thought to be a very important contributor. Many who suffer from IBS also suffer from other stress-related illnesses like PTSD, Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. As we all know, when we are stressed, we tend to be oversensitive. This could also be happening on a gut level.
You can use essential oils to help manage your stress (see Essential Oils For Anxiety And Stress for more details). In particular, you can try and make the pre-meal, during meal and after meal-time periods as stress-free as possible. For example, you could try diffusing Lavender while you cook your meal. Then, depending on your Ayurvedic body type, you could diffuse Myrrh if you are Pitta or if you are Vata you could diffuse Fennel (or take 2–4 drops total with the meal) or diffuse Caraway (these two also have the added benefit of reducing flatulence).
Sitting to eat, ideally in a dining room with a relaxing view of nature, will help you feel less stressed, and also help your digestive juices to do their job. Ayurveda (and modern science, too) says you should not get up during the meal, as it disturbs the acids in your stomach from being able to break down the meal. You should sit for 5 to 10 minutes to digest at the end of the meal. Eating in silence helps you to focus on chewing properly and reduces the amounts of air taken in with the meal and this will cut down any flatulence issues.
According to Ayurveda, sipping a little hot water (boiled water left to cool) can help digestion. Ayurveda also says that cooked foods are easier to digest than salads (which also makes sense from a scientific point of view, as cooking loosens the food molecules). Studies have also shown that peppermint tea can help reduce flatulence.
As IBS is sometimes triggered by hormonal changes, if you are a woman and tend to suffer from PMS, diffusing a mixture of 15 drops of Ylang Ylang, 7 drops of Clary Sage and 6 drops of Neroli may help. A Woman’s Balance Roll-On Relief or diffusing A Woman’s Balance Synergy may also be useful. If you are in the midst of peri-menopause, the Menopause Roll-On Relief may help balance hormonal changes.
If you think your IBS may have developed because of a digestive tract infection, you could try diluting German Chamomile in jojoba or hazelnut oil (10 drops per tablespoon) and applying it to the abdominal area, as many find it helps with for inflammations of the gastro-intestinal tract.
Or if you think IBS could have developed due to parasites, keep in mind that even WebMD says that Oregano Essential Oil (taken as advised by your doctor) can kill the parasites Blastocystis hominis (one of the most common human parasites in the world), Entamoeba hartmanni, and Endolimax nana.
If you suffer from IBS, we hope these tips will help. If you have already been managing your IBS using essential oils, please share details of what has worked for you below, so that all can benefit.
Disclaimer: The statements made on this page have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.