Plantation Villa | Sri Lanka

Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) From the Ayurveda Perspective

Written by Dr. Chathurika Harischandra, Resident Doctor, Plantation Villa, Sri Lanka

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common functional gastrointestinal disorders worldwide. It is more prevalent among young adults and females. Unhealthy eating patterns, stressful life-style and hormonal changes are the main trigger factors. Western medical science identifies IBS as a chronic condition in the large intestine with alternating constipation and diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, bloating, gases and mucus discharge with stools. These symptoms should be understood properly because it can easily be confused with a colon cancer in the beginning. It is important to note that loss of appetite, weight loss, rectal bleeding and severe abdominal pain may indicate more serious conditions. There are no specific tests to diagnose IBS apart from ruling out other conditions.

Ayurveda identifies this condition as a disease originating due to improper digestion, led by malfunctioning digestive fire. Causes are: too much fasting, over eating, eating during indigestion, irregular eating patterns, intake of unwholesome, heavy, cold, dry, rough, and contaminated foods. The western identification for the cause of IBS is unknown, but most of the patients struggle with certain foods and drinks, like wheat, dairy products, beans, cabbage, onions, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, etc. 

According to Ayurveda, the starting point of this condition is diarrhea leading to low digestive fire, which generates toxic substance accumulation in the body. This creates imbalance in the physiology of the gastro intestinal tract, with frequent passage of digested or undigested food materials accompanied by cramping pains in the abdomen. The person will experience alternating diarrhea and constipation with mucus or pus discharge in the stools.

Ayurveda provides successful treatment methods for IBS. These include initially improving the patient’s digestive fire, cleansing treatments and herbal medicine. Ginger, black pepper, long pepper, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and nut grass are commonly used in medicinal formulas to increase digestive fire. Cleansing treatments like purgation and cleansing enemas are helpful to eliminate toxic materials accumulated in the body. Once digestion is corrected to a normal level, nourishing enemas and rejuvenating herbal medicines are used to sooth the gastrointestinal tract. 

If you have been diagnosed with IBS, the following Ayurvedic guidelines can be practiced:

The basic nature of the human body goes with the rhythm of universe. The industrial and technical development of the world over the last hundred years have created massive changes in lifestyle which have resulted in a collapse of the natural rhythms we used to follow. We have moved towards saving time and away from what is actually needed for human wellbeing. We are now eating fast foods and process foods. Ayurveda places high emphasis on food, it describes good food practices as essential for prevention and treatment of any condition. You can read more about Ayurveda guidelines on consuming foods in our previous article (“A summary of Ayurvedic Guidance On Food And Nutrition”). As IBS is a disease caused by improper dietary patterns, it is difficult to get a quick relief. We have moved too far away from nature, which has caused huge imbalances within our body and mind. Therefore, relief from these illnesses comes only with a change in lifestyle.