After a period of intense digestive discomfort (constipation,
nausea and ab- dominal pain), I recently was diagnosed with
irritable bowel syndrome. Are there any foods and herbs that can
Keville responds: Irritable bowel syndrome
(IBS) generally is a catch-all term for a series of related
disorders that produce similar symptoms. There are both foods and
herbs that will help. That’s good news for many people who have
discovered that Western medicine has little to offer people who
suffer from this disorder.
Soothing herbs, such as calendula flowers (Calendula
officinalis), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis), chamomile
(Matricaria recutita), hops (Humulus lupulus) and licorice root
(Glycyrrhiza glabra), help calm the irritation and inflammation
caused by IBS. (Do not use licorice root if you have high blood
pressure.) These herbs also relax the nervous constriction of
digestive muscles that promotes bowel problems.
Psyllium seed (Plantago spp.), which also is popular as a
gentle, bulk laxative, is useful for IBS, especially when it is
associated with constipation. Several studies conducted back in the
1980s tested psyllium in people who had IBS or similar disorders.
Eighty percent of the participants reported less pain, constipation
Another remedy to try is specially designed enteric-coated
capsules that contain peppermint (Mentha ¥piperita) essential oil.
These capsules do not release their contents until they reach the
intestine, so the peppermint gets to the colon rather than being
absorbed earlier in the digestive tract. Medical doctors have
prescribed this remedy to IBS patients for a long time, and it is
available in U.S. pharmacies.
There are many theories as to what causes IBS. One idea is that
the syndrome is connected to the immune system. It certainly
doesn’t hurt to take an immune-enhancing formula and see if you
start noticing any improvements after a few weeks. A few of the
herbs I’ve already mentioned — chamomile, marshmallow and licorice
— help improve immunity, soothe the bowels and fend off food
allergies at the same time. I’ve noticed that including immune
herbs in the formula makes a big difference for many people. IBS
can be triggered — and in some cases, perhaps caused — by food
allergies, which seem to irritate the digestive tract, especially
the colon. So try to determine if eating certain foods makes
symptoms worse. This can be a little tricky, since symptoms often
result many hours after eating, or even the next day. Try
eliminating any suspected foods from your diet, at least
temporarily, to see if it makes any difference.
Another factor to consider is stress. As you may have
discovered, IBS comes and goes, and bouts of stress can bring it
on. Look for ways that you can destress and make your life more
relaxing. Also, take advantage of herbs that help you reduce your
stress level. Hops and chamomile, as well as catnip (Nepeta
cataria), are good choices, since they aid the digestive tract.
Khalsa responds: IBS is a common disorder of
the intestines. In IBS, some experience constipation, while others
deal with diarrhea; some even alternate between the two, or pass
mucus with bowel movements. Frequent cramping and bowel urge
without passing stool is common. More than 5 million Americans are
living with IBS.
There is no recognized cause for IBS, and no cure in mainstream
medicine. IBS can be a minor annoyance, or it can be disabling.
Eating, having intestinal gas or having food in the colon can cause
the colon to act up. Frequent culprits include chocolate, milk
products, fatty foods, alcohol and caffeine. Women have more
symptoms during menstrual periods, and many have increased symptoms
Probiotics assist digestive function and reduce the presence of
negative organisms. In a four-week double-blind, placebo-controlled
trial published in the Journal of Gastroenterology, 60 IBS patients
were treated with the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum. The
probiotic largely reduced intestinal gas. A smaller double-blind
trial using L. acidophilus also showed benefits.
Triphala, the famous Ayurvedic herbal combination, is a gentle
internal cleanser. It has a high tannin content, so low doses (1
gram daily) treat diarrhea. In higher doses (7 grams daily), it
treats constipation in a very slow, gentle way, toning the walls of
the intestines while it works.
As Keville mentioned on Page 8, enteric-coated peppermint oil
eases the symptoms of IBS, and acts as a relaxant for the muscles
of the intestinal wall. In one double-blind trial, four out of
every five IBS patients experienced reduced symptoms with
enteric-coated peppermint oil.
Caraway (Carum carvi) oil has similar properties, reducing
gastrointestinal mo-tility. A 1999 German study of peppermint and
caraway oils showed a significant reduction in pain in 223 IBS
patients. A study from 2000, published in Phytotherapy Research,
again confirmed that a combination of peppermint and caraway oils
effectively normalized intestinal movement.
Psyllium seed balances bowel function and relieves IBS symptoms,
especially diarrhea. The mucilage in psyllium creates a soothing
effect, which may relieve cramping. In a 1987 English study, 82
percent of the subjects had IBS symptom relief when taking a
psyllium supplement. A study to find the optimum dose settled on 20
grams a day.
Some people with IBS cannot digest lactose. This may cause
abdominal symptoms consistent with irritable bowel syndrome. People
with IBS should perform a trial of milk avoidance.
Eating a special diet reduces IBS symptoms in some cases. The
diet must be individualized to minimize the personal triggers. Use
just enough fiber so that you have soft, easily passed and painless
bowel movements. Eating more frequent, smaller meals usually works
better than eating fewer large meals.
Elevate Testosterone Levels
I am 51 years old. Seven years ago, I was working very hard at
weightlifting. When having some bloodwork done, the doctor noticed
my testosterone levels were below normal. The doctor put me on a
male hormone replacement (Androgel) and I have been on it ever
since. Now that I know better, I do not want to use this drug any
further. I would like some advice on what herbs to use to get off
of this drug, and I will certainly be working with my doctor as I
go through the process.
Keville responds: You are right to think that
after taking Androgel for several years, your body may need a
kickstart to produce a sufficient quantity of testosterone on its
own, especially since your production was low already. It is great
that your doctor is willing to help you wean yourself off the
hormone, and it sounds like he or she might even be supportive of
you taking herbs to help the process. It is a good step, since
there is some evidence that taking testosterone may have
detrimental side effects similar to the problems women develop from
Weightlifting usually increases testosterone levels. However,
some weight lifters have discovered that overtraining, and
especially not allowing the body to recuperate adequately between
training sessions, can lower testosterone. Getting enough sleep and
eating a diet rich in nuts and olive oil are some simple lifestyle
suggestions that can help elevate testosterone and keep it high.
The stress from training too hard or emotional stress also can
increase cortisol levels and slow down the body’s production of
testosterone. You can try stretching exercises like yoga, chi gung
or tai chi, which help lower cortisol.
There is no hard evidence that Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
supports testosterone, but the Chinese historically have used the
herb for hormone-related problems, and Western herbalists like
myself also think it works well. Many Chinese men still turn to
ginseng today when their testosterone levels begin to decline in
their 40s and 50s. Unlike hormone-enhancing drugs, herbs will
encourage your body to produce its own testosterone, rather than
working as a replacement. The Chinese also recommend kidney tonic
herbs to strengthen and balance hormonal production. Consider
seeing a practitioner who can combine acupuncture with Chinese herb
formulas to help the process of discontinuing the drug.
Khalsa responds: This definitely is a good
project for herbal medicine. Ashwaganda root (Withania somnifera)
is the first herb that comes to mind. This adaptogen is used in
Ayurveda as a tonic and sedative. Studies show ashwaganda to be
superior to ginseng as an antistress adaptogen. This rebuilding
herb is the main tonic for men in Ayurveda, which considers
ashwaganda to be a particularly powerful rejuvenative, and it is
regarded as a premier sexual tonic. Over time, it will assist in
recovering testosterone levels.
An animal study from 2001 showed that extracts of ashwaganda
increased production of sex hormones and sperm, presumably by
exerting a testosterone-like effect. In another double blind
clinical trial, 101 healthy male adults (50 to 59 years of age)
took 3 grams of ashwaganda daily for a year to determine the herb’s
effect on the aging process. Significant improvements in
hemoglobin, red blood cells, hair pigment and seated stature were
observed. Serum cholesterol decreased, nail calcium was preserved
and 71.4 percent of those who took the herb reported improvement in
A typical dose of ashwaganda is about 1 gram a day, taken over
long periods (up to many years) as a rejuvenator, but, since
ashwaganda is very safe, Ayurvedic practitioners often prescribe
larger quantities for short-term use.
Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe) is another good possibility for
you. Yohimbe is a West African tree. The bark is a traditional
herbal aphrodisiac. Warriors who were preparing for battle would
drink the bark tea to help them become aggressive and have more
stamina. But yohimbe also helps make love, not war. Males in some
African societies take yohimbe as part of marriage rituals. The
herb developed a reputation for increasing libido, as well as for
improving male sexual performance. Modest doses of yohimbe, taken
over a few months, along with a tonic herb like ashwaganda, can
produce a conspicuous increase in testosterone. In my personal
clinical experience, yohimbe is very reliable in the proper dose.
You might find it helpful to consult a professional herbalist to
get the details right, however — the difference between a pleasant
response and nervous discomfort can be a very small dose.
Most people take a dose that supplies 15 to 30 mg of daily
yohimbine content, but some people respond optimally to 10 or even
5 mg daily. If using the raw herb in powder in a capsule, start
with 200 mg total in one dose, not late in the day, and work up
from there. It usually takes at least two to three weeks for the
herb to begin producing results. Even in normal doses, side effects
of dizziness, anxiety, hyperstimulation and nausea are relatively
Be very cautious using yohimbe if you are taking tricyclic
antidepressants; phenothiazines; clonidine; drugs for lowering
blood pressure; or central nervous system stimulants. It is best to
use this herb under the guidance of a qualified herbalist.
Kathi Keville is the director of the American Herb Association
(www.Aha Herb.com) and author of 11 herb and aromatherapy books,
including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches
seminars throughout the United States.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience
with medicinal herbs. A licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage
therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild, he
specializes in Ayurvedic, Chinese and North American healing