Irritable Bowel Syndrome

iStock_000011487316XSmallWhat is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder of the large intestine with no evidence of accompanying structural defect. IBS is characterized by some combination of abdominal pain or distension; altered bowel function, constipation, or diarrhea; hypersecretion of colonic mucus; dyspeptic symptoms (flatulence, nausea, anorexia); and varying degrees of anxiety or depression. If you have symptoms suggestive of IBS, please consult a physician for an accurate diagnosis.

What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

There appears to be four main causes of IBS: stress, insufficient intake of dietary fiber, food allergies, and meals too high in sugar. Stress increases the motility (the rhythmic contractions of the intestine that propel food through the digestive tract) of the colon and leads to abdominal pain and irregular bowel functions.

What dietary factors are important in Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Dietary fiber promotes proper colon function. Patients with constipation are much more likely to respond to dietary fiber than those with diarrhea. Increasing intake of dietary fiber from fruit and vegetable sources rather than cereal sources may offer more benefit to some individuals.

Food allergy as a cause of IBS has been recognized since the early 1900s. More recent studies have shown the majority of patients with IBS (approximately two-thirds) have at least one food allergy, and some have multiple allergies. The most common allergens are dairy products (forty to forty-four percent) and grains (forty to sixty percent). Many patients have noted marked clinical improvement when using elimination diets (see FOOD ALLERGY for further discussion).

Meals high in refined sugar can contribute to IBS by decreasing intestinal motility. When blood sugar levels rise too rapidly, the normal rhythmic contractions of the gastrointestinal tract slow down and in some portions stop altogether. A diet high in refined sugar may be the most important contributing factor to IBS being such a common condition in the United States.

What nutritional supplements should I take for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Foundation Supplements. There are three products from Natural Factors that I think are critical in supporting good health:

  • MultiStart (age and gender specific multiple vitamin and mineral formulas). Follow label instructions.
  • Enriching Greens – a great tasting “greens drink” containing highly concentrated “greens” like chlorella, spirulina, wheat grass juice, barley grass juice, etc., and herbal extracts. Take one serving (one tablespoon) in 8 ounces of water daily.
  • RxOmega-3 Factors – A true pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplement. Take two capsules daily.

PGX with Mulberry Extract from Natural Factors. PGX is a special soluble fiber blend that is primarily used to help control after meal elevations in blood sugar. However, it is extremely useful as well as a gastrointestinal tract tonic in patients with IBS. Take 2-4 capsules 5 to 15 minutes before meals.

RevitalX is a high potency multi-nutrient powdered drink mix formula from Natural Factors. The product was developed by Michael Lyon, M.D., and specifically engineered to be an excellent source of important nutrients to support the gastrointestinal lining and aid detoxification. It is an excellent source of hypoallergenic vegetarian protein that we have termed GoldPeptides along with specific nutritional, probiotic, and herbal support to the digestive system. Take one serving daily.

Peppermint Oil Complex with Oregano Oil from Natural Factors provides volatile oils from peppermint, oregano, and caraway seed oil in an enteric-coated capsule so that it does not break down in the stomach but is instead delivered to the small and large intestine. Preparations containing peppermint oil in enteric-coated capsules have been shown to be very effective in IBS. Take one or two capsules three times daily twenty minutes before meals.

Probiotic supplements supplying Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria species are very important in IBS. Take a product that will provide 5-10 billion live bacteria daily. We have gotten a great deal of positive feedback on BB536 a special Bifidobacteria in the RevitalX Probiotic with BB536 from Natural Factors.

Artichoke extract appears quite helpful in IBS. The evidence is provided by the results of several studies in patients with various digestive disorders including symptoms associated with IBS. Artichoke extract appears to be most helpful for abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, lack of appetite, and nausea. I would give the enteric-coated peppermint oil a try first, however. The dosage for artichoke extract is 300 to 600 mg three times daily.


I have noticed a tremendous association between the emotions and the gut in patients with IBS. That being the case, psychological or emotional intervention is often quite effective in the treatment of IBS. Clinical studies have documented psychotherapy in the form of relaxation therapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, counseling, or stress management training significantly improves the symptoms of IBS. Many people with IBS find that daily leisurely walks markedly reduce symptoms, probably due to the known stress-reduction effects of exercise.

How do I know if the recommendations are working?

Consistent and persistent improvements in the typical symptoms of IBS are a clear indication of success.

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