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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

By Dr. Maoshing Ni

Irritable Bowel Syndrome & TCMHave you ever experienced alternating constipation and diarrhea, abdominal bloating, excessive gas and pain, usually as a reaction to stress? Other general symptoms that may accompany include heartburn, fatigue, headache, faintness, back pain, palpitations, and weakness. If you find yourself nodding your head, join the estimated 20 million Americans who suffer from IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. What is it you ask? Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional motility illness of the small and large intestines, in the absence of true structural damage to the intestines. The disorder does not usually lead to serious disease such as inflammatory bowel disease or malignancy (although there might be an association between IBS and the development of diverticulosis). Determination of aggravating factors can yield good results, where those stressors prove controllable.

Causative and aggravating factors surrounding the the disorder include diet, drugs, hormones or, especially, emotional stresses such as depression, hysteria, obsessive-compulsive traits, Anxiety and resentment. Common psychosocial situations associated with IBS are marital discord, death of a loved one, worrying over children or job, or just excessive Anxiety over everyday matters. IBS is a disease predominantly of women (3:1 to men), and the average age of onset is 20-40. Some have suggested that aggressive toilet training in childhood may result in individuals who are narrow in outlook, punctual, fastidious, and who suffer from grievous bowel problems. Some probing questions to ask yourself are: “what’s eating you up inside?” and “what feelings are you swallowing and not expressing leading to gut-wrenching pain?” The answers to our questions validate our understanding that emotional stagnancy is one of the main causes of IBS.

General Eating Principles Include:

  • Be careful with food combinations: especially avoid starch, sugar, protein combination (for example, cheesecake). Avoid eating too many types of foods at one time. Stick to one type of starch per meal. Eat steamed vegetables rather than raw ones 

  • Emphasize a high complex carbohydrate, high fiber diet

  • All foods must be eaten slowly, chewed and salivated well; eat in a calm atmosphere, do not read or watch television while eating

Recommended Foods:

  • Potato broth, cooked carrots, okra, steamed and mashed parsnips, squash, pumpkin, figs and flax seed tea, steamed zucchini and squash, papaya, grated raw apple, applesauce, ripe peaches without skin, banana, rice porridge

  • Miso soup, slippery elm gruel, psyllium seed powder, flax seed powder

  • Foods high in the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids: vegetable, nut, seed oils, cold water fish, evening primrose oil, black currant oil, flaxseed oil

  • Foods high in water-soluble fiber: Fiber may help some individuals with irritable bowel symptoms; psyllium seed husks, barley, rye, flax seed, pectin, guar gum, oat bran, legumes, brown rice, and vegetables are fiber sources that are most likely to provide benefit and less likely to provide sensitivity reactions. Wheat bran is usually not effective in reducing irritation and inflammation and in many cases may exacerbate the situation.

Foods To Avoid:

  • Food intolerance: while true food allergies may be less common than sometimes claimed, the presence of food sensitivities or intolerance among individuals with irritable bowel symptoms appears to be significant when demonstrated by symptom reduction upon removal of the food in question from the diet; some researchers believe that aggravations due to food reactions are more likely to occur when at least 3.5 ounces of the offending food is eaten on a daily basis.

  • Wheat, corn and dairy, carrageenan- containing foods are among the most common symptom-provoking foods peanuts, meat, sugar and sweet food, refined and processed foods, corn, soybeans, most legumes, coffee, caffeine, oranges, alcohol, hot sauces, spicy foods, fried foods, fatty foods, rich foods, salty foods

Diet is an obvious component of our comprehensive treatment program for IBS. Other modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and stress release techniques, all contribute to promoting the healthy functioning of the digestive tract. Without a good digestive system, you will be robbed of the energy and quality in your life.


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