Bloating, stomach pain and unpredictable bowel habits are all common symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
An estimated 6 million Brits have IBS, and if you’re suffering in silence – or have struggled to find help elsewhere – then why not try looking to Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is traditional Indian medicine, but it’s also much more than that. The name can be translated as ‘science of life’ and it’s a way of living that incorporates philosophy, yoga, food and massage as well as natural herbs. It’s a holistic approach to health.
Here are five ways Ayurveda could help your digestion and bring you relief.
1. Ease your stress with ashwagandha
"A key principle in Ayurveda is that the mind and body are inseparable,” explains medical herbalist Katie Pande.
“And so when the mind is in distress, problems show up in our physical health. There’s an especially close connection between the brain and the gut: if you’ve ever had ‘butterflies in your tummy’ when you were nervous, you’ve experienced this first hand.
“This brain-body connection starts to explain how stress can play a key part in IBS, too. In fact, up to three-quarters of sufferers say that stress is a trigger for their symptoms. So, how do we deal with it? Practices to calm the mind are a key Ayurvedic way of coping with stress, such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation. But herbs also play an important role in Ayurveda, of course, and there’s none more appropriate than the natural remedy ashwagandha at times of stress. This much-loved herb can support energy but also has calming and anti-anxiety properties, helping to lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.”
Try taking Ashwagandha capsules once or twice a day, such as Pukka’s 7 Day Relax Kit.
2. Soothe with aloe vera
You’ve probably heard about using aloe vera for cooling and soothing irritated skin. But it can also have that same cooling and calming effect for the gut.
“In fact, it’s used in Ayurveda as an ‘intestinal healer’. For an irritated gut, make sure you’re getting a high-quality aloe vera juice or gel made from the inner leaf of the plant,” advises Katie.
3. Think before you drink
Could your favourite drink be making your symptoms worse? Coffee and alcohol are among the prime candidates that can irritate the gut. Coffee is also a stimulant, of course, and increases stress hormones – adding fuel to the fire that triggers those unpleasant IBS symptoms.
Katie recommends: “As an excellent antidote and alternative, try drinking fennel tea. A traditional Ayurvedic digestive herb and natural soother, fennel can help calm spasms in the gut and relieve bloating. Sip on a cup after a meal or any time you need relief.”
4. Get to know triphala
Triphala is Ayurveda’s herbal gut health tonic. Made from three fruits – haritaki, bibhitaki and amla – its traditional uses include helping relieve sluggish bowels, constipation, bloating, flatulence and abdominal pain.
This can be particularly helpful if constipation is a symptom, but it can also be useful if you have alternating constipation and diarrhoea – a common pattern in IBS sufferers. Contrary to pharmaceutical laxatives, which tend to stimulate the bowel, triphala has a regulating effect, so can be used long-term.
5. Train your mind to be still
“For most of us, finding stillness and calm – a place where stress can melt away – is a skill that needs to be learned. This is why meditation or mindfulness practices are a key part of the Ayurvedic lifestyle. Luckily, they’ve become more popular in Western society, too, and so plenty of resources are available to help us, from apps to breathing exercises to structured yoga classes.
Katie adds: “Making one of these techniques or practices part of your daily life is ideal. But if stress affects your IBS, then a short meditation before you eat a meal could be especially helpful. Start by taking just five minutes before you eat to close your eyes and breathe deeply (five seconds in, five seconds out). You could find that even this makes all the difference.”