(NaturalNews) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a devastating condition that affects more than 45 million Americans. Symptoms of IBS include: bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain or cramping. People suffering from IBS have a higher rate of hospitalizations, work absenteeism, feelings of poor quality of life, and abdominal surgeries than healthy patients with other gastrointestinal illnesses. People with IBS symptoms miss more than three times as many work days than people without bowel symptoms. I know all of this firsthand because I was diagnosed with the syndrome in 2004 after two years of living in misery with unexplained digestive discomforts.
Bloating, constipation, gas, and abdominal pain were daily occurrences in my life. I could fit into a pair of jeans in the morning, and then have to unbutton them after lunch because they didn't physically fit me anymore. One of the most frustrating things about IBS is that no one knows exactly what causes it, and there is no cure. Also, there is no diagnostic marker for IBS and so many tests are done to rule out other more serious conditions. That meant that I had to have a colonoscopy at the young age of 26 in addition to a barium x-ray, which entailed drinking a white sludgy chalky-tasting mixture that wreaked havoc on my already sensitive innards.
Fortunately, more and more research has been done on IBS to determine the causes since my diagnosis in 2004. Back then, there was hardly any online information on it. As a result I've invested (wasted) probably thousands of dollars on worthless and sometimes dangerous medications just to try and regain a normal life. I've tried: Milk of Magnesia, Fiber Choice, Fibercon, Metamucil, Citrucel, Celexa (anti-depressant), Levsin (anti-spasmodic), Zelnorm (IBS-specific drug, now yanked off the market because of its links to heart attacks and strokes), Maalox, Prevacid, and literally dozens of others to try and get rid of my bloating and pain, which were my top two worst symptoms. I could start the day feeling fairly well, but by the end of the day, I was sometimes in tears from the pain and discomfort I was feeling.
I became pregnant with my first child in September 2004, and had a miserable pregnancy. Astonishingly, within minutes of giving birth to my son in July 2005, I became symptom-free and remained so for the next seven-and-a-half months. Not surprisingly, this is around the time I returned to work full-time. I was starting to realize that my condition had a lot to do with stress in addition to the foods I was eating. Simultaneously, I had become more aware of the foods I was eating, which included artificial sweeteners and a lot of "diet" foods. I became more interested in organic and natural foods, and started incorporating more of those into my diet.
Returning to work full-time after becoming a new mother was too stressful for my body to handle, and I fell back into the dreaded familiar pattern of bloating, constipation, gas, and abdominal pain. Stress obviously played a very important role in how my gut functioned so I decided to take a different approach and see a psychologist to see if she could determine what stressors were taking the hardest toll on my body.
During the course of my treatment, I had become pregnant with my second child in May 2006. Along with determining ways for me to better handle my stress, my psychologist was also recommending that I go on a low dosage of an anti-depressant after the birth of my daughter. I was having another miserable pregnancy and was anxiously counting down the days to when I could start up another anti-depressant. I had begun taking Celexa about two months before I became pregnant with my daughter and it had worked wonders for my IBS. Obviously, I had to discontinue its use when I found out I was expecting and was quite disappointed. After doing some research, though, I realized that the relief I felt from Celexa was probably due to the documented side-effect of diarrhea, which in my constipated state probably brought my body to a more 'regular' state.
In February 2007, I gave birth to my daughter, and again, I became symptom-free the instant that she was born. For me, I believe that my IBS is related to hormones and stress. In April 2007, I picked up running. I mentioned this to my psychologist and to my surprise she said that consistent running is the equivalent to a low-dose of an anti-depressant. She said that she would prescribe this to many of her patients, but because running is so hard on the body, it's just not very realistic. Encouraged by this, I continued to run in hopes that I would not have to go on an anti-depressant. I ran six 5ks (road races) in 2007 and am now training for my first 25k in May 2008. I am happy to report that I returned to work in October 2007 and managed to remain IBS-free to this day. After many miserable years of lots of trial and error, I finally found my cause and cure.
And I don't think I'm alone. According to a May 2005 Wall Street Journal article, "an altogether different treatment [for depression] that shows tremendous promise has gone largely unnoticed. That treatment is exercise. A growing body of medical literature, including at least three 2005 studies, is showing that aerobic routines as well as weight lifting are effective at combating depression. In addition to the famous "runner's high," or endorphin surge that provides a temporary mood lift following a workout, the studies show that there is a round-the-clock relief that sets in several weeks after the establishment of a regular exercise routine."
Since many IBS patients are put on anti-depressants, it would make sense that exercise would provide much-needed relief for IBS sufferers as well, who also commonly suffer from depression.
I don't run every day, but run at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes. Because I am training for the 25k my mileage will increase over the next couple of months. I plan on continuing to run for as long as my body will let me.
There are also many natural treatments for IBS that are worth trying. Enteric-coated peppermint capsules work as an anti-inflammatory; self-hypnosis also has been shown to reduce symptoms in many sufferers; regular yoga practices works to reduce stress, anxiety and pain; fennel (seeds or tea) works to regulate contractions of the small bowel and aids gas expulsion; acacia fiber is a soluble fiber that helps both diarrhea and constipation; Ginger acts as an anti-spasmodic, helps prevent vomiting, and improves the tone of intestinal muscles.
Author's Note: IBS is a serious and sometimes debilitating disorder and cannot be self-diagnosed. If you suspect you suffer from it, please see your doctor to rule out more serious conditions.
A married mother of two young children, Julie Hurley is a freelance writer with a strong interest in natural living. She is also the Grand Rapids Healthy Food Examiner for Examiner.com. Visit her page at: tinyurl.com/healthyfoodexaminer.