What's My Alternative: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

By Gina Roberts-Grey

For nearly 20 years, I battled bouts of gas, bloating, painful cramps, and diarrhea, which gradually got worse and became more frequent. After an unusually prolonged flare-up when I was 40, I went to the doctor—and I wasn’t terribly shocked when he told me I had ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation of the large intestine caused by abnormal activation of the immune system in the intestines.

The Conventional Rx: My doctor prescribed immunosuppressants, medication that weakens the immune system to ease symptoms. But these drugs carry the risk of side effects, such as constipation, decreased blood flow to the colon, dizziness, and blurred vision. Instead of filling the prescription, I explored other options.

The Alternative Rx: I started keeping a daily diary to track what I ate and also the amount of stress I felt, hours of sleep I got each night, and my overall activity level. I was surprised to discover that stress—not food—seemed more likely to trigger my symptoms, and sure enough, research confirms this. Stress weakens your immune system, which often leads to painful IBS symptoms.

Practicing yoga three to four times a week lessened my gastrointestinal upset within a few weeks. Aromatherapy—specifically, dabbing a few drops of a blend of lavender and ylang-ylang essential oils on pulse points like my wrists and sides of my neck two to three times a day—also lowered tension.

To promote better overall colon health, I also added fiber to my diet, starting my day with one cup of a fiber-packed cereal. I also take one 4 mg capsule of the probiotic Bifantis (Bifidobacterium infantis 35624) a day, which studies have shown relieves many symptoms of IBS.

The Outcome: I’ve scaled back on fried foods, which can cause a flare-up of symptoms, and my yoga practice has also helped me drop 7 pounds. Even better? I’ve yet to fill the crumpled prescription that’s tucked away somewhere in my wallet.