Since there is no medical cure for irritable bowel syndrome, people who suffer from it can grow frustrated and despondent. This needn't be the case, though. There are plenty of alternative home remedies to rein in IBS:
Keep a diary. This is important in helping you and your doctor determine what the cause of your discomfort may be or what factors may aggravate it. For about two weeks, keep a record of what you've eaten, the kind of mood you're in, the stress you're experiencing, and how your stomach feels. (Women should also record the dates of their menstrual period, since some women suffer more acutely from IBS around the time of their period.)
By writing down your stresses, for instance, you may be able to pinpoint their causes and, as a result, take necessary action to change a stressful circumstance. And you may be able to cut back on or eliminate certain foods that appear to aggravate your symptoms.
Learn how to relax. Stress tends to exacerbate IBS. In fact, some sufferers have their most serious bouts of IBS soon after a stressful situation. The first step in learning how to relax is to simply be aware of when your muscles have tensed up, so you can undo that tension.
One technique for easing that tension is progressive muscle relaxation. One by one, you purposely tense, or tighten, and then relax each muscle group throughout the body. This allows you to become more aware of what your muscles feel like when they are tense and when they are relaxed.
While this technique can be helpful for some people, you should try different methods of relaxation and see what suits you best.
Be ready to roll with the punches. Too often, people see the world in black and white instead of shades of gray -- they are perfectionists who are unwilling to compromise. This kind of attitude can have a negative effect on the digestive system. Indeed, people who have a healthy outlook on life may stay healthier and not suffer so severely from IBS. So IBS sufferers can help themselves by confronting and understanding their fears and concerns. A professional counselor may be of help.
Picture yourself in stress-free surroundings. Visualization is a relaxation technique that helps carry you away from your stress. Close your eyes and dream up a relaxing scene; focus on it in detail, noting the way things look, sound, smell, feel, and taste. You may find that relaxation tapes or tapes of soothing nature sounds or music can help you visualize relaxing scenes.
Exercise. Activity helps the digestive system work properly. Exercise can also aid IBS sufferers by distracting them from their symptoms and by promoting the release of endorphins, the body's feel-good hormones that help control pain. Opt for moderate exercise, because strenuous workouts may cause diarrhea. Long-distance runners, for instance, have been known to suffer from "the runs."
Take a deep breath when stressed. This is the quickest, easiest way to release tension from your body when there's no time for exercise or more-involved relaxation techniques. Breathe deeply and slowly, allowing your chest to rise and fall slowly and purposefully. Focus on the intake and outflow of your breath.
Eat more slowly. If you gobble down your food, you're more likely to swallow air, which can travel through the digestive system in the form of intestinal gas. Chewing gum can also cause you to swallow air.
Eat several smaller meals. Large meals can overload the digestive system, causing cramping and diarrhea. Smaller, more frequent meals over the course of the day are easier for the body to handle.
Drink between meals. Drink liquids between meals instead of with them. Drinking when you eat dilutes digestive juices and frustrates digestion.
Try a hot bath. A hot bath may relieve stomach cramping. Or, apply hot compresses or a heating pad to your abdomen.
Watch your use of laxatives. Magnesium-based laxatives are relatively safe to use (except by those with kidney problems), although it's still best to discuss them with your doctor before you try them, since some doctors prefer that their IBS patients skip laxatives altogether. Also, check labels and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully -- overusing laxatives that contain stimulants can harm your intestines.
Set up a self-help group. Often, people with IBS feel as if they're suffering alone. To help sufferers help themselves and each other, support groups have been created all over the country. If you'd like to start one in your area, here's how to get information on setting up, publicizing, and managing a group: Write to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, P.O. Box 170864, Milwaukee, WI, 53217-8076; call 888-964 2001; or visit their Web site at www.aboutibs.org.