IBS Awareness Beckons as Spring Blooms


Now that we’ve turned our clocks ahead and await leisurely walks into the evenings, it’s time to do something about irritating health problems that frustrate those longings. That’s especially true after more than a year of COVID lockdown, with a vaccine’s promise of easing our anxieties about every step and every breath we take.

One of the most uncomfortable problems has to be irritable bowel syndrome — and since April is IBS awareness month, it’s time to take action and enjoy a new season.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or as it’s increasingly being called, irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D), is difficult to diagnose and figure out. No test exists to diagnose IBS, so doctors must rule out other conditions such as Crohn’s and celiac disease.

Some 10 percent to 15 percent of American adults have IBS symptoms: Abdominal pain and discomfort, abdominal bloating, distension, and fluctuating constipation and diarrhea. They also may experience weight loss, rectal bleeding or a family history of gastrointestinal cancer.

People who suffer from IBS may have sensitive colons, experts say. The colon can react to things like stress, bacteria and certain foods.

One’s brain also plays a role and may be overly sensitive to signals that control the colon. The result: The intestines squeeze too hard, making food move too quickly through your system. That can cause pain, diarrhea, and other problems like gas.

At the same time, experts say irritable bowel syndrome and other gut-related illnesses aren’t “a cookbook science,” so lots of experimentation may be needed to ease the symptoms.

Some people may find relief by drinking lots of water, exercising at least an hour a day, and keeping lists or diaries to figure out the foods that may make them sick.

Others may try an experimental eating plan called the low-FODMAP diet, based on the idea that certain carbohydrates are the main culprit in IBS.

FODMAP is an acronym for those carbohydrates: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.

The undigested carbohydrates are believed to draw extra fluid into the digestive tract and end up in the colon, where they are “feasted upon” and fermented by gut microbes.

The carbs are found in many foods already known to affect digestion: Beans, dairy, wheat, cauliflower and foods ranging from onions to honey to mushrooms.

Though probiotics and fiber supplements may help, herbs may also be part of a solution. They include turmeric and crystallized ginger. Though no large scientific studies exist on herbs, some people report an easing of IBS symptoms with judicial use.

Both ginger and turmeric are rhizomes, or root stalks, used around the world, not only as food seasonings but also as traditional herbal medicines.

Take care with the potencies and mixtures, though. A too-potent ginger shot, for example, can start a coughing fit.

It may be easier to try powdered ginger, fresh ginger root or crystallized ginger in small, measured amounts, combined with turmeric. You can add chopped crystallized ginger to soups, teas, salads — just about anything that you can stir or sprinkle it on.

Turmuric, which contains the active ingredient curcumin, can be used in root form, as a powder or as a liquid. Take care, especially with the liquid, because it can leave golden-colored stains on hard surfaces.

It also has a pungent taste, so you might try mixing it with soups, juices and smoothies, or mixing it with ginger, garlic or cumin in broths, teas and milk.

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