When Supplements and Medication Don’t Help

For years, I’ve been searching for the magic remedy to get my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms under control. I never found one. Some things helped for a while. Others helped in certain situations. But none of them ever made me feel safe in my body.

When I was first diagnosed, doctors kept telling me that my IBS was due to stress. It was so frustrating. In my head, I was convinced that it was the other way around. That IBS was causing all the anxiety that I was feeling. And yet, after years and years of trying to manage my symptoms, I finally understood that anxiety was indeed at the root of my issues.

Why am I telling you this, you ask? Because I often see others do the same thing as I did. Search for magical cures or quick fixes and then feel frustrated, discouraged, and hopeless when none of them work. So, I wanted to share my personal experience with different remedies and why it’s not always helpful to spend hours researching IBS cures. Just remember that this is my experience, and we’re all so different!

Probiotics: hit or miss

Probiotics are among the first things that are recommended for IBS. And yet, we’ve probably all heard that the wrong probiotics can make symptoms even worse. Finding the right probiotic isn’t easy, and even when you do, it simply doesn’t mean that it will work for you forever.

When I was diagnosed, doctors prescribed me Saccharomyces boulardii. It didn’t do anything except make me bloated and uncomfortable. And yet, I recently discovered that this probiotic is amazing for me when taken as a 10-day cure after a stomach virus.

I had a similar experience with Lactobacillus probiotics or even fermented water kefir or foods. Whenever I feel like I need those, they work great for a little while. Then, I start getting bloated and have to stop again.

This might be different for everyone, but for me, probiotics are best when used very sparingly and only for short periods of time. Beyond that, they cause more symptoms than they resolve. Most of the time, my microbiome doesn’t need probiotics – or at least not the ones I’ve been trying.

Medication isn’t always necessary

I don’t take much medication for my IBS because it doesn’t really work for me. But it wasn’t always like that. At the beginning of my IBS journey, I would try every medication I could get my hands on. My Imodium consumption was through the roof. And yet, the more medication I took, the less I felt like my body could handle digesting by itself.

I still remember the one time, right after giving birth, when I was offered stool softeners to help me go to the bathroom. As someone with IBS-D, I should have known better. Better be constipated for a day or two than take unnecessary medication. But I didn’t think, and so I ended up with my worst IBS-D flare ever that lasted for weeks and ruined the newborn phase for me.

Even when it comes to Imodium or other diarrhea medication, I try to avoid it as much as possible. For some reason, my body does best when I let it sort flares out by itself. The only times I will take medication is when I have to be somewhere, or when a flare doesn’t seem to end.

Obsessing over triggers can be counter-productive

Trying to figure out exactly what caused a flare is good, right? Well, theoretically yes. It’s great to know what triggers our flares and what foods are safe. But sometimes, overanalyzing can make everything worse.

Sometimes, there’s just no rhyme or reason to IBS, even after supposedly finding a diet and lifestyle that works. Trying to find the root of every single flare not only causes so much stress but can also lead to an extremely restricted diet. For example, I’m just getting over a flare after eating too much sauerkraut. And dairy, probably. But do I now need to cut both of these out of my diet? In my opinion, no. I just need to eat a little bit less of both.

Since stress and anxiety can be huge triggers as well, a flare might not even be related to food. And have I mentioned that the weather is super humid right now? Maybe there’s a formula I could use to figure out exactly how much stress, humidity, and sauerkraut my body can handle simultaneously. Or, I can accept that I have no control over every single variable and just keep living my life in a way that usually works. After all, even healthy people get an upset stomach sometimes!

Don’t overlook the nervous system

For me, addressing the nervous system is the most important step when it comes to managing my IBS. As I’ve already mentioned, I have pretty bad anxiety and it definitely acts as my biggest trigger. The funny thing is: I don’t always feel the stress or anxiety. Not consciously, anyway. I can’t count how many times I was convinced that I wasn’t anxious and could not figure out why my IBS was flaring, only to realize, once the anxiety had eased, just how on edge I had been.

For me, working on stress, trauma responses and rewiring my brain is always a good idea. It’s not something I can really overdo, as long as it feels right. No matter what I choose to do – meditation, hypnotherapy, EFT tapping, yoga – it all helps in one way or another.

So, if you’re like me and have found that supplements or medication can only get you that far, don’t hesitate to try addressing your nervous system. But of course, you know best what’s right for you!

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