3 Ways to Reduce IBS Symptoms

woman hands on stomach - ibs

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects up to 50 million people in the US, and about 60% are female. The diagnosis is based on symptoms of recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort for at least 3 days per month for 3 to 6 months associated with 2 or more of the following:

  • Improvement with defecation
  • Onset associated with change in frequency of stool
  • Onset associated with a change in the appearance or form of stool

Other symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, feeling that a bowel movement is incomplete, passing mucus, or abdominal bloating. Here are some effective ways to reduce IBS symptoms and improve gut health:

1. Eliminate or reduce common gastrointestinal irritants from your diet. These include wheat and gluten, cow’s milk and dairy, corn, sugar, and processed foods. Avoid these foods for at least 3 to 4 weeks to determine whether or not you are sensitive to them. Often, this may be all that is needed to improve IBS symptoms! Moving to this anti-inflammatory diet also helps to prevent chronic diseases and promotes overall health.

2. Take a probiotic supplement daily. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods such as Greek yogurt. An ideal supplement contains 3 or more strains of bacteria with several billion colonies. It may or may not need to be refrigerated. Preferably, it should be taken on an empty stomach. You can also consume more probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, pickled vegetables (easy to make at home!), kimchi (fermented cabbage), and kombucha (fermented tea).

3. Work on your stress. The gut contains an enormous amount of nerves, which are as significant as the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Therefore, IBS symptoms can be strongly tied to emotional health. To improve the gut's response to stress, try to develop a regular mind-body practice. This can include yoga, meditation, or breath work for 10 to 30 minutes every day. Even regular exercise has been proven to reduce the frequency and severity of IBS symptoms. There are many free web-based or phone-app resources to help you get started. The possibilities are endless!

If you are suffering from IBS, know that you are not alone, and that there is hope to feel better. If you think you may have IBS, but have not been diagnosed yet, see your physician to discuss your symptoms and ensure that they are not signs of a more serious health condition. You and your physician can work together to develop a plan that puts you on a path towards health!

Srivani Sridhar, MD, is a family & integrative holistic medicine physician at SwedishAmerican's Woodside clinic in Rockford.