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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Friday, 30 October 2009

Ciara O' Meara - Medical Herbalist
From a young age Ciara found herself allergic to antibiotics, this prompted a proactive approach to preventative medicine, ensuring that through diet and exercise she was always doing her best to stay healthy.

Ciara is a practicing Medical Herbalist. Ciara completed an Honors Science degree in University College Dublin in 1997 followed by an MSc in Medical Genetics at Aberdeen University. She spent a number of years working in the field of academic research in areas such as The Human Genome Project at Oxford University, UK, and on Cancer research at Cancer Research UK.

It was during this time that she took up a yoga practice and further cultivated an interest in natural medicine. She also completed a four year honours degree in Herbal Medicine at Westminster University in London. This University has a long established centre for excellence in the training of medical herbalists and encompasses a walk in training clinic in the heart of London.
Ciara O' Meara has clinics in Thurles, Co. Tipperary and Rathangan, Co. Kildare.

For further information and contact details please see her website:
For information on the professional body of medical herbalist in Ireland (The Irish Institute of Medical Herbalists) please see

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a collection of different symptoms which make up the individuals triggers and presentation.
Symptoms can include the following:

. Abdominal pain, often relieved by passing wind or faeces
. Abdominal bloating
. Diarrhoea, constipation or alternation between both

Factors which are known to affect IBS sufferers
.Intolerance to certain foods this can be more common with IBS associated with diarrhoea (consider wheat, corn, dairy, coffee, tea, sugar, lactose, citrus fruits).
.Body reactions to foods which may be causing intolerance include sweating, palpitation, fatigue, urgent bowel movements.
.Family History

Useful pointers

. Many people who suffer with the diarrhoea form of IBS have been found to have certain dietary triggers, if you think this applies to you keep a symptom diary which records what you have eaten and how it affects you. You may see a pattern of a particular food which is aggravating your symptoms (See the list above). If so cut it out completely for a minimum of 2 weeks and continue to record your symptoms.

. For some people high fibre in the form of insoluble fibre like e.g. Bran can be an aggravating factor, replace with more soluble fibre food sources like vegetables and fruit.

. Body reactions to food s which may be causing intolerance include sweating, palpitation, fatigue, urgent bowel movements.

. Family History

. If you have sudden onset IBS symptoms, make sure it is not an underlying infection by getting a stool test

. The yeast Candida can sometimes mimic IBS symptoms when it overgrows in the system.

. If stress is the main trigger for symptoms this must be addressed long-term as part of the overall treatment strategy either with exercise, meditation, or some new hobby which relaxes mind and body.


Slippery Elm powder

This is derived from the inner bark of the Slippery Elm tree found in the US.
It provides a directly soothing effect on the gastrointestinal system; it provides a protective healing barrier on the digestive mucus surfaces.
It is both soothing to diarrhoea and helps to draw water into the bowel in cases of constipation. Can be taken by those who convalescing for its nutritive powers, particularly useful in this regard for both children and the elderly. Useful in acid reflux conditions, taken last thing at night to protect the stomach from the effects of excess acid.

To prepare
- take ½ to 1 teaspoon with all meals and between all meals for excess acid and reflux until symptoms improve, then take with all meals
- For IBS take both with and between meals when symptoms are bad, this will help both constipation and diarrhoea

Hints: can be taken mashed with a small amount of banana, in hot milk, cold milk, in a small amount of yoghurt.


Referred to as "mother of the gut". Chamomile has many properties which can be used to calm and sooth the digestive tract. It relaxes spasm associated with cramping; it also reduces anxiety which can be a factor in the symptoms of IBS particularly in children. It can also facilitate expulsion of trapped wind in the stomach.

Can be taken as a tea, tincture or for very small children a tea added to bath water in the evenings or the tea can be sweetened with honey and made into an ice-pop to make it more appealing.

Dandelion root

Useful where there is a sluggish bowel. Dandelion root is a very gentle laxative. It works by stimulating the production of bile from the liver. Bile is the bodys natural laxative and also facilitates the breakdown of fats in the digestive system.

Dandelion root can also form a useful part of a gentle cleanse for the colon as part of a general detox. It would be useful as part of an exclusion diet if you are keeping a symptom diary. Dandelion root can form a natural caffeine alternative, roast dandelion root coffee is commercially available.

It can be taken as a tea, tincture or capsule.


This herb has proven to reduce the cramping or spasm associated with IBS. It relaxes the intestinal smooth muscle returning it to its normal relaxed state.

It can be taken as a tea, tincture, if there is accompanying reflux then enteric coated capsules are the most suitable option.

Warming digestive tea

Teas are a wonderful way of treating the symptoms of IBS particularly bloating and cramping. The mistake some people make is not making them strong enough. Sometimes one tea bag will not be enough to improve symptoms. In such cases I suggest buying lose leaf herbal tea it is far superior and will allow you to make a stronger infusion.

You will need
. Cinnamon sticks
. Ginger, fresh or dried (fresh is better if you can get it)
. Fennel seeds (other options include aniseed or dried liquorice root)

1. Grind up 3 tspn of fennel seeds, 1-2 inches of a cinnamon stick well with a pestle and mortar.
2. Slice 3 slices of fresh ginger
3. Add all the herbs to a tea pot and pour over 500mls of boiling water (you might like to use less or more water depending on your tastes). Allow to infuse for a minimum of 15 minutes, longer if you can.
4. Strain as you pour and drink throughout the day, this tea can be taken to work in a flask and boiling water added to it as required through the day.

Additional / Misc' Info:

What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the large bowel (colon) in which the bowel overreacts to a mild stimulus - such as eating or the presence of gas - by going into spasm. It is also known as spastic colon. IBS is characterised by abdominal pain, bloating and irregular bowel habits - including alternating diarrhoea and constipation.

What are the symptoms of IBS?
. Abdominal pain which can be quite severe - pain may be relieved following a bowel movement
. Unusual bowel movements - intermittent diarrhoea, constipation, or an alternating combination of both
. Crampy urge to move bowels but inability to do so
. Bloating sensation
. Excessive belching and flatulence
. Stool may have mucous and be small in size.
. Occasionally heartburn, nausea and vomiting also occur.

What causes IBS?
IBS appears to be due to an abnormal, exaggerated response of the muscles of the intestinal walls; however, it is not known exactly why some people develop the disorder. It can sometimes develop after a gastrointestinal infection, and there are also a number of factors that may set it off - including dietary, psychological, hormonal and genetic factors. Stress and depression are known to contribute to flare-ups.

How is IBS diagnosed?
There are no specific tests for irritable bowl syndrome, and so your doctor will normally make a diagnosis on the basis of your symptoms and after ruling out various other disorders - such as colon cancer and Crohn's disease. Diagnostic tests that may be carried out to rule out these other disorders include blood tests, stool analysis, x-ray and endoscopy of the bowel.

How is IBS treated?
Treatment for IBS will depend on the degree of your symptoms. The first step is to find out as much information on the condition as you can. This often helps people to feel more in control of their symptoms.