IBS is not a disease, it is the name given to a group of symptoms, which might include bloating, constipation, diarrhea, urgency, painful abdomen, excess gas and lethargy. It is not something that can be cured, but it can be managed to the point where symptoms are rare. In my experience 90% of cases can be managed with self-help!

IBS usually starts during a stressful time e.g. leaving home, relationship breakups, death of a loved one, or after a long course of antibiotics. There can also be an inherited predisposition.

Food intolerances play a big role. Cutting out wheat, dairy, refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, fizzy drinks and chili can make a big difference. But they do have to be cut out completely. Not just reduced. Eliminate the foods for six weeks, see how you feel and if your symptoms change. Then reintroduce them one by one and see how you are affected. Keep a food diary to help find out what your body likes and what it doesn’t. There is probably an app!

If you’re worried that food will be boring if you cut out all those things, don’t be! There are so many wonderful books now with alternative recipe ideas e.g. ‘Deliciously Ella’, ‘Honestly Healthy’, ‘How I Quit Sugar’, ‘Get the Glow’.

How you eat is as important as what you eat. Chew every mouthful until it’s liquid. The stomach does not have teeth! If you don’t chew it, you end up with a compost heap inside, with fermentation and putrefaction creating gasses and pathogens. Also eat at the table without the distraction of TV, books or computers. Studies have shown that people who gave full attention to their food while eating absorbed many more nutrients than those who were distracted. You will also end up overeating if you don’t pay attention. As well as causing weight gain, overeating overstresses the digestive system. Eat what you can fit in your cupped hands; that is the size of your stomach. Also, breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, supper like a pauper!!

Stress and anxiety are big factors in IBS. Look at your life and see if there is anything you can change to make it more peaceful. Maybe resign from a committee, or cut down visits to friends or family that leave you feeling upset and frustrated. Take afternoon naps if you can. Exercise and get into nature. Look at the balance of your life between work, play and rest. There are some great mindfulness app to help you learn to be more chilled e.g. Buddhify, Smiling Mind, Calm. Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and Chi Gong can be wonderfully calming.

Probiotics are an important supplement for IBS sufferers. Usually the gut flora is out of balance and needs more good bacteria – probiotics provide this. Buy a good quality supplement with at least 20 billion live bacteria in each capsule. You will need to take them for at least three months. Peppermint capsules and peppermint tea can also help ease symptoms, as can slippery elm.

If your doctor does not feel he/she can do any more for you but you are still suffering, do try help from alternative health professionals. A herbalist will be able to prescribe specific herbs to help spasm and constipation. Colonic Hydrotherapy is a wonderful way to clean and rebalance the colon and give a kick-start to health eating. Homeopathy and acupuncture are also very often helpful in helping IBS. Hypnotherapy is great to help with anxiety and depression. FMT (fecal microbiota transplant) is a new, but proving to be very powerful way to correct the dysbiosis in the gut which is a cause of IBS.

Most importantly, know that you do not need to suffer. I have worked with people who have suffered with IBS for over 25 years, and it breaks my heart because it is not necessary. Usually within six weeks IBS sufferers are feeling at least 80% better.