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The “bowel” is a name for the entire digestive tract, from the mouth to the end of the intestines. After we chew our food, swallow the stuff into our stomachs, the next part of the digestive system is the intestines. There is both a small and large intestine, the small being about twenty feet long and all bunched up in the middle of our abdomen. The large intestine (colon) is about five feet long and is shaped like the Hebrew letter ches.

So what exactly is an irritable bowel? It is described as alternating bouts of diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and abdominal pain; sometimes, all three at the same time. Severe headaches, vomiting and anorexia may be secondary symptoms. It happens due to certain foods or drinks or stressful events in our lives that trigger this negative reaction in our guts. It is believed by some doctors that IBS is the second most common medical complaint inAmerica. Twice as many women suffer from the condition as men, and it usually affects people between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five. Many other conditions may have similar and overlapping symptoms. These include celiac disease, benign or malignant tumors of the colon, Crohn’s disease, lactose intolerance, parasitic infections and candidiasis/ yeast overgrowth.

Normally, broken down digested food is moved along the intestine by muscular contractions called peristaltic motion. In IBS these rhythmic contractions become irregular and uncoordinated. The food and waste become intermingled and an accumulation of mucous and toxins fill the gut. This then results in obstructions, gassiness, bloating and distension.

As in all dis-ease there are roots in all three of the holistic paradigm of health. Here too, we have evidence of a mental/psychological cause, chemical (food & drink) causes and physical causes. As all doctors know there is a very good connection between stress and IBS. We recommend anything you can do to un-stress, un-wind yourself. Relax, deep breathe, listen to relaxing music, meditate, do self-hypnosis or bio-feedback (much of which I teach in my office). There are techniques such as visualization for dealing with anxiety and pain.

Dietarily, I recommend avoiding the nightshade vegetables, dairy products, too spicy foods, and all white refined grains. Keeping a diary of what foods offend you is good, as each of us has different triggers. Adding non-soluble fiber such as bran, whole grains, fruit and vegetables may be helpful. Herbs such as crushed psyllium seeds or cascara sagrada are safe and non-addictive. Of course drink lots of good water (the best water filters are available through my office). Cutting out fat especially trans fats are essential for healing. Acid forming foods such as tomato, orange, pineapple and vinegary foods should be eliminated. Coffee usually brews trouble. Cigarette smoking is also a trigger. Chewing gum or any artificial sugar can worsen IBS.

Restoring intestinal flora with probiotic good bacteria (acidophilus etc.), using healing agents such as glutamine, aloe, essential fatty acids, herbs like valerian, skullcap, peppermint, chamomile, fenugreek, ginger, marshmallow and pau d’arco are all great. Cleaning and strengthening the liver is also essential. For this I recommend milk thistle, licorice, burdock and red clover.

As in every case, aerobic exercise is important, both for toning the muscles and relaxation. Body work such as chiropractic spinal adjustments, massage, acu-pressure/reflexology help tremendously. Using these methods along with therapy such as electric stim and heat removes blocked energy and relaxes the muscles. These techniques are performed in my office.

Irritable bowel syndrome is painful, but not life threatening and most people can lead active, productive lives if they learn to cope, have positive attitudes, relax more and more often, change there eating habits, exercise regularly and take the proper nutrients.