As far as diseases go, bowel disorders are definitely at the bottom of the list (no pun intended)! People will quite openly discuss breast cancer, anemia, arthritis, a sinus infection, the flu, etc., but if you bring up “the runs,” or mention your colon at all, people get uncomfortable.
It’s understandable, really – how do you mention in polite conversation, “Well, I had the runs yesterday, and my colon was spasming so much I actually shat myself in the car because I couldn’t make it home on time?”
What would someone say in response to that, anyway? Another example – try explaining to your boss why it’s not a good idea to have you as the chief presenter at an important client meeting:
“Well, first I’ll be constipated for at least 3 days prior, due to the anticipation of being in the spotlight. Then, about 5 minutes before the meeting starts, I’ll get the runs and spend the next 2 hours excusing myself every 10 – 15 minutes to rush off to the bathroom.” Can you relate??
Although people don’t talk about it much, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a widespread bowel disorder that affects about 50 million Americans – and could easily lead to either of the situations above. However, for an illness with such a high incidence rate, it receives very little discussion and virtually no media attention. Again, we run into the same problem – what news announcer wants to talk about farting and bowel movements on the air, and how exactly would you go about attracting a big corporate sponsor to fund research and awareness?
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are varied and can involve any number and combination of the following symptoms:
- abdominal pain & cramping/intestinal spasming
- stomach gas/bloating/farting
- excess mucous in stools
- pain upon eating or defecating
- anal fissures (small tears in the anus often caused by frequent bowel movements, or, excessive straining and hard stools)
- And many more than just the above…I’d recommend visiting our home remedies page for any symptoms you may be dealing with, as it is a wealth of information if you are unsure where to begin.
Depending on the severity, combination, and frequency of symptoms, IBS can be a minor annoyance, or, something that really interferes with your quality of life. Unfortunately, the drug treatment protocols for IBS are not very effective in the long-term, and some of them have side-effects that are often worse than the original symptoms. For example, I once took an anti-diarrhea medication that made me bloat like a pelican’s gullet and expel big, loud, smelly farts all day. Honestly, I preferred the diarrhea! If you are looking to see your physician, however, I’d recommend first taking a look at my interview with a Functional Medicine doctor, The Best Medical Tests for Managing IBD or IBS, where I talk with him about which of the medical tests (blood, urine, saliva, stool) give you the biggest bang for your buck – and which ones may be interesting, but won’t really change your course of treatment, or make an impact on your efforts to heal yourself.
The good news is there are many natural treatments for IBS that are very effective and work to heal your body synergistically. However, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a bowel problem, these remedies will work to heal whatever irregularity you’re experiencing. Here are just a few natural treatments for some of the most pressing symptoms of an irritable bowel:
The easiest remedy for constipation is simply to increase your intake of vitamin C (in ascorbic acid form) and magnesium citrate. Along with that you add a stool bulking and softening agent – taken once or twice a day – my favorite is 1 tbsp. sprouted flax and chia powder, along with 1/2 tsp. bentonite clay.
NOTE: You cannot use these remedies if you are on an exclusively elemental diet – only if you are combining Absorb Plus with regular foods. Vitamin C is an excellent immune booster, with many extensive clinical trials showing large doses to be quite safe. About 40% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, so this is a mineral you probably will only benefit from – the only side-effect of too much Vitamin C or magnesium can be diarrhea.
Start at 2000 mg vitamin C and 250 mg magnesium citrate per day. You can increase up to 6000 mg of vitamin C and 1000 mg of magnesium. For maintenance, eat lots of fresh fruit and ‘non-scratchy’ complex carbohydrates (zucchini, carrots, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, etc.) and drink at least 8 – 10 glasses of spring or filtered water per day, along with one or two doses of the flax/chia seed powder + bentonite combo.
It’s important to note that this is a quick-fix remedy that will alleviate the symptom and stimulate a bowel movement, but it will not provide long-term healing. To heal the root cause of constipation, you need to eradicate pathogenic microorganisms (like bad bacteria, yeast, fungi, etc.) with an intestinal broom (like wild oregano oil or olive leaf) and then re-populate the bowel with good bacteria using probiotics. Lots more information on how to do this in my book, Listen To Your IBS, and throughout my blog.
An amino acid called L-Glutamine is the best remedy I’ve come across for diarrhea, and it works very quickly (usually within 2 – 3 days). It’s virtually tasteless and dissolves easily in water. L-Glutamine directly nourishes and heals the mucosal lining of the intestine and causes the bowel to re-absorb the water in your stool, thus reducing the number and frequency of bowel movements. Do not use if you have any liver or kidney disease.
The flax/chia seed powder + bentonite combo is also an excellent product for absorbing water and producing bulkier stools, and it seems to be well-tolerated by most people. As I mentioned above, for long-term healing of your diarrhea, you need to eradicate pathogenic microorganisms (like bad bacteria, yeast, fungi, etc.) and then re-populate the bowel with good bacteria.
Avoid foods that cause diarrhea such as refined sugar, refined flour (white, bleached), hydrogenated fats, caffeine, and acidic, tomato-based foods like spaghetti sauce and pizza. Most people find coffee (regular or decaffeinated) highly irritating as well. Anyone with irritable bowel syndrome should automatically avoid processed foods, luncheon meats or hot dogs, and foods with artificial flavor/color, preservatives or msg. Colonic massage is also an excellent way to reduce frequent bowel movements, as the massage helps move all the separate little stool deposits around the colon and out at once, rather than in many separate bowel movements:
As with any illness or disorder of the body, full healing can only be effected when the emotional and mental components are also addressed. Anger, fear and anxiety are emotions that are typically stored and expressed in the gut. This is clearly evidenced in our language – how often have you heard expressions like, ‘his guts were churning with anxiety’, or, ‘the bile rose in her throat whenever she thought about what he’d done’, or, ‘her stomach clenched in fear?’ In fact, what do people do when faced with extreme violence or fear? They often urinate or defecate uncontrollably.
Any bodywork therapies that utilize somato-emotional release will be very healing to people with IBS. Somato (body)-emotional release is based on the premise that emotional trauma is actually stored in the physical tissues of the body – not just in the mind or soul. When you release the event, or memory, or feeling at this level, the catharsis is particularly effective and healing. Therapies like craniosacral, EFT, matrix reimprinting and other forms of energy healing can all facilitate somato-emotional release. It’s best to look for a therapist that specifically lists somato-emotional release as part of their practice. Choose your practitioner the same way you’d choose a counselor – make sure it’s someone with legitimate qualifications that you feel comfortable and safe with.
I once went to a craniosacral therapist who specialized in somato-emotional release. We started first with my neck and he began by just holding it as I lay on my back (fully clothed). Then, as I relaxed, he slowly began to rotate my head gently to the left and up a bit. Much to my surprise, I immediately experienced a technicolor memory of being beaten as a child. Even more surprising, I re-experienced the fear and anger I had felt then and tears began streaming down my face. When he sensed the emotion was getting a bit much for me, he gently moved my head back to its former position and the memory, the feelings, and the tears disappeared instantly! I was back to the jolly self I was when I originally walked in there, and I lay there laughing over how bizarre that was as I wiped the tears away. He waited for me to relax again and then moved my head back to the same position – and immediately I was back in the memory crying away again. He continued this process until I had worked through the memory and released it, then he moved on to work with other parts of my body.
A friend of mine would experience visions, and she would feel as though she left her body during certain acupuncture sessions. Another friend re-experienced and released a memory of childhood sexual abuse when the craniosacral therapist began working on her arm. You wouldn’t think a sexual abuse memory would be stored in someone’s arm, but the memory began with her being forcefully grabbed at the elbow and marched up the stairs, so that’s where her body stored it. Another woman I know feels distinctly linked with her inner child whenever her energy healer works on her colon. She cries throughout the session and sometimes for a while afterwards, but for the next few days experiences no symptoms of bowel distress whatsoever. Going beyond the psychological, talk-therapy approach and into the body itself can be a very profound and deeply healing experience.
There are many routes to healing and each person has to find their own particular path. Just try to keep in mind that the easiest treatment protocol (for example, popping a pill) is not always the best for your body long-term. Experience teaches us it’s best to seek out ways of healing that work holistically and heal the whole body in an integrated, long-lasting manner. You can find the mind/body/spirit section of my blog here, and I encourage you to take a look around and see what you find there.
There are many more effective treatments for common symptoms of IBS available in my book, LISTEN TO YOUR IBS, including heartburn (acid reflux), spastic colon, abdominal pain and cramping, joint swelling, etc. You can also find additional information in my home remedies section.
Original post June 2012. Most recently updated February 2020.