After struggling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for over five years now, and trying every method I could to heal it, I think I’ve finally found a permanent cure! I’ve written about IBS before, and some of the tests, diets, and methods I’ve tried. And I’ve had a few periods of reduced symptoms that have lasted up to 3-4 weeks. But otherwise, it’s typically been diarrhea 2-3 times per week. Until now! For the past 6 weeks, I have been completely symptom-free. And that’s with no special diets (I’m eating everything), no special pills (I’m not taking a single supplement), no special training, no special tools, and no purchase necessary – just a simple exercise that takes 1-2 minutes per day.
Sound too good to be true? That’s what I thought too, which is why I brushed it aside the first time I heard about it. It’s so incredibly simple that when I finally tried it and saw that it worked, I was floored! Well, floored and elated. But when I heard the science behind it, it made sense. I want to tell you the cure right now, and I will at the end of this post, but first I want to briefly talk about what IBS is, and what else I’ve ruled out, so you can understand how this works.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects up to 20% of American adults. It is not a disease as there is nothing physically wrong with any particular organ. Rather, it is a brain-gut access disorder. In other words, the brain and gut are not communicating properly, so the proper enzymes are not being released to digest the food (to put it simply). This can result in intestinal discomfort, cramping, bloating, motility issues, lack of energy, and other symptoms.
Also, there are many types of IBS. Some lean more toward chronic diarrhea. Others to constipation. Others have both. If you experience these symptoms regularly, it’s important to rule out other diagnoses like parasites, food allergies, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, SIBO, etc., as the treatments may be different.
For me, I tracked everything I ate, every bowel movement, every emotion, even every time I had sex, and found it very difficult to identify any correlation between these things and my digestion. I should clarify that spicy or greasy foods, and stressful emotions, did tend to exacerbate the symptoms, but it wasn’t consistent. Here is a quick list of some methods I’ve tried over the years to heal my IBS:
- Parasite tests and anti-parasite medication (noticed no symptoms for 5 days… which isn’t much.)
- Several diets: No wheat, no dairy, no rice, no meat, no processed foods. How healthy can you eat, anyway?
- ALCAT food sensitivity test (which mis-reported me as being sensitive to just about everything, especially rice, which I avoided for 4 months without relief.).
- Micronutrient deficiency testing (said I’m fine except for B12)
- Self-hypnosis program for IBS (audio program I purchased which reduced symptoms from 2-3 times per week to once every 1-2 weeks, which lasted for a few months)
- Probiotics (tried several kinds which didn’t seem to help much, if at all)
- Squatting while defecating (maybe helped a little?)
- Colonic hydrotherapy (enema) (maybe helped a little, but temporarily, if so)
- Emotional healing / release / integration / meditation / mindfulness. This was actually the most effective method I’ve tried until now, relieving symptoms on several occasions for up to one month each. I wrote more about this here.
- Not drinking water within 30-60 minutes of eating so as not to dilute digestive juices. (didn’t help?)
- Not drinking anything cold — only herbal teas with meals (maybe helped a little?)
- Food combinations: Eating fruits/sugars 30 minutes before a meal. Not mixing proteins with carbohydrates. (didn’t help?)
- Eating smaller meals and less frequent meals. (maybe helped a little?)
And just to reiterate, for the past 6 weeks, I have done none of these things (well, except meditation, but I’ve been doing that all along, for the most part, without complete relief of symptoms). I’ve also eaten just about everything: wheat, dairy, meat, “junk” food (a few chocolate bars, ice cream, and sugary snacks), spicy food, greasy food, and all types of cuisine, including those that have often caused me problems in the past like Indian curries, Thai food, pizza, and cheeseburgers. I’ve also been eating Japanese, Mexican, Turkish, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, French food, and more. I’ve eaten these foods across three continents, from Barcelona, Spain to Dubai, UEA to Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, both in restaurants and home cooked, and all without any symptoms. Well, I have had occasional gas and slight intestinal discomfort with a handful of meals, but so did others in my family, so I think it’s fairly normal. But I’ve had no diarrhea, and generally regular and comfortable bowel movements. I should also say that my diet has not changed significantly over the past 9 months — I like variety. There is really only one change that I can see that has made a significant difference in curing my IBS.
So, what is the secret?
You might laugh when you hear it, because it’s so simple and sounds a bit ridiculous, but I’m totally serious. What seems to have cured my IBS is simply:
Gargling and Gagging
What?? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But it turns out that the vagus nerve is an essential part of the communication channel between your brain and your gut, and that partially stimulating the gag reflex through gargling, tongue depression (or even singing, to some degree) can help activate the vagus nerve, and strengthen the connection between your brain and gut, which helps the primary cause of IBS.
Don’t believe me? Listen to this 5 minute clip where Dr. Datis Kharrazian explains how this works. This is a clip from a longer interview with Sean Croxton on the Digestion Sessions (highly recommended series if you have any digestive issues).
Some important points: The gargling/gagging must be done to the point of tearing, so as to properly stimulate the vagus nerve, but this isn’t as bad as it sounds. I didn’t follow his recommendation of gargling for 1-2 minutes 12 times per day. I just did if for 30-60 seconds, 3-6 times per day (usually when brushing teeth, drinking water, or after using the bathroom). I also didn’t use tongue depressors for gagging, but just stuck my finger in my mouth slowly and held it there for a few seconds (no, I haven’t vomited), and do it maybe 2-3 times per day. Interestingly, as many as 37% of healthy Americans do not have a gag reflex. So I’m not sure how this technique would work in that case, and I’m curious what percentage of them have digestive issues like IBS, and if it’s less than the general population.
I realize that many IBS sufferers have found complete relief through diet changes, probiotics, emotional healing, and more. And I’m not proposing that gargling and gagging is a cure-all for everyone. But it seems to have worked for me, and hopefully someone else out there can benefit from this information, too.
One final note: As likely as it seems to me that this technique has cured my IBS, I can’t completely rule out the emotional aspect either, because despite a lot of stress the past few weeks (we’ve been finishing up a remodel project in Bali), in other ways, I’ve been feeling more capable in dealing with stress, more confident in who I am, and more comfortable with expressing myself, and this could be having an impact as well, although it is harder to measure and has been a more gradual change. Again, I’ve had some very stressful moments in the past 6 weeks, but they have not had a big affect on my digestion. At this point, I’m just thrilled to be done with this syndrome, and I hope it lasts!
Update Sep 2018 (almost 4 years later): I continue to get emails from people who’ve read this post and want to know more this technique, or ask for an update on how I’m doing. To the former, I actually don’t really know anything more about this besides what I’ve written here and in the comments below. But to the latter, for the past few years, I have been almost completely symptom-free. I have long since stopped gargling and gagging or doing any of these other practices, as they became unnecessary. That said, I do find an occasional flare up if I overeat (and I think many people underestimate what “overeating” is). It’s not based on quantity per meal but on how hungry I am. I’ve learned to really watch my hunger levels, eat only when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m nearing being full (before being full). This sometimes means I’ll only eat one meal per day – or if at a restaurant in the U.S., maybe 1/3 of a meal – but I feel great doing so. If I already feel full, I’ve usually eaten too much, and usually won’t digest it well. Rarely (perhaps once every few months), I also experience a flare up due to some meal that caused a problem, like to some food sensitivity or something I haven’t identified. But it’s rare enough that I don’t bother myself too much about it. I wish you all the best on your own journeys healing your IBS!
Update Sep 2019: I recently visited a naturopath who heard about my symptoms of not being able to eat large meals without digestive issues and he suggested that I may have low levels of hydrochloric acid in my stomach, which makes it more difficult for me to process large amounts of food at once. He said this is a common problem. He recommended taking HCL pills or slightly diluted apple cider vinegar before each meal. So far I’ve been trying the apple cider vinegar for about a week, which isn’t really long enough for me to know if it’s helped, but I wanted to share it here as another option to try for those who are looking for solutions.
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The Reality of Spirituality
02 Jun 2012
Garden in Boquete
21 Feb 2009
Brandon, this is fantastic news! So happy you can enjoy more of your favorite foods (and new food experiences) without discomfort!
I remember when you first posted this video in facebook and watched it – thought it was interesting. I don’t have IBS symptoms, but still have been curious about this. Like is gagging a good thing to do occasionally for anyone?
When I do oil pulling (I add essential oils for flavor and therapeutic effect) I notice that some essential oils seem to trigger more of a gag reflex when I’m done with the pulling/gargling/rinsing. Instead of fighting it, I’ve been embracing it as potentially healthy :) I’ll let you know if I notice anything with it.
Keep us posted!
Happy, happy news. I’m so glad you don’t have to go without all those foods you were afraid you’d need to avoid!
I have a very sensitive gag reflex, so my concern would be that I’d be seriously gagging before accomplishing all I want to, or vomiting. But since I sometimes have odd intestinal issues, I might give this a try. Thanks for sharing!
So happy this is working for you!!! So interesting to learn about these connections. Sometimes the solutions to problems really can be much simpler than we think. :)
via @brandags How I Cured My Irritable Bowel Syndrome http://t.co/2Bw8uHw7MG
I would love an update on this…. how’s the tummy, 6 months later? :)
Shortly after I published this post, while in Singapore, I stopped doing the gargling and gagging, to see if the benefits could persist without it (and because I got kind of tired of doing it). Around that time (9 weeks after being free from IBS symptoms), I also had the most spicy laksa I’ve ever had, which caused tearing and sweating, etc., and I stupidly finished the whole bowl. That night I had some very bad diarrhea, and it seemed to have triggered something that brought me back into my routine of having diarrhea once every week or two, and that’s persisted for the past several months. I still haven’t started back up the practice of gargling and gagging, to see if it would help the symptoms go away, because they haven’t been bothering me enough to do so (and because I’m slightly afraid it won’t work). But so far, evidence seems to point to this method being the cure, and little else changed in my diet and routines over that time.
This was fascinating! Has anyone else cured their ibs in this way? Do you think it’s possible to work up tearing after a while of gargling? I don’t really feel anything. I also have a question about the gagging, is it enough to just press the tongue, or does it have to feel like I’m actually about to vomit? Sounds like a really uncomfortable excersice in that case..
Also, how long did you do this before noticing a difference?
I don’t know anyone else who’s tried this exercise personally, but I noticed a 100% improvement within the first week of doing it multiple times per day, and it persisted for as long as I continued the exercise (9 weeks). Once I slowed down the practice to just once or twice a day for a few seconds (often not really tearing), combined with an extremely spicy Singaporean laksa, the IBS came back…
I usually start tearing within 30 seconds of gargling, but it has to be deep gargling that goes back very far into the throat. For gagging, it’s the same. The more intensely you do it, the more likely you are to start tearing. If you’re not tearing, you are probably not doing it intensely enough. And yes, it can be rather uncomfortable… which is why I stopped. :) I might pick it up again and some point if my IBS symptoms become bad enough.
Strange but true. I recently try this once a day when I brush my teeth. Sometimes tear down sometimes not. I feel less feeling of wanting to pass wind and am getting more constipated. Will keep doing everyday and will update again. Thanks for this method. Quite unbelievable at first I read about.
So glad to hear you’re finding relief with this! Thanks for sharing, and keep us posted on how it’s going.
Hey Brandon, great article, glad you found relief. I’m going to start trying this myself. The only problem I have is when I gargle I can’t seem to get the “tears” that the Dr talks about. Did you find this too at first? Or did you manage to tear straight away with gargling? Wondering if i’m doing it right! Cheers, Kate
You’re probably not gargling deep enough. It’s kind of hard to do, yes, and I think I prefer the gagging, honestly – just because with gargling the water sometimes goes down the air pipe and causes some discomfort that lasts a lot longer than the discomfort of gagging. Brushing my tongue with my toothbrush, or putting my finger on my tongue for a few seconds tends to be all that’s needed for me to get teary now.
Interesting stuff Brandon, as the Vagus Nerve has implications beyond IBS I wonder if there are additional ways of measuring the strength of the brain/gut connection?
Yes, I’d love to see more research on that, too.
I am trying this now . I have had diarrhea predominant ibs for about 9 months . It was everyday . But it’s once a week now . But the irritation is there everyday multiple times .
So glad to hear that you’re seeing improvement with it! By irritation, do you mean from the gargling/gagging exercise? Or that you’re still having subtle IBS symptoms on a daily basis? How long have you been doing the exercises and how heavily?
I really appreciate this article even though it sounds like I’m 2 years late to the party. I’m very excited to try the gagging/gargling, but I too find it hard to reach the tearIng level of either. I also have tried many other methods to help my ibs which is more ibs c with major bloating but regular if that makes any sense. Anyway I was just wondering how you are doing these days. Thanks again
Doing well. I can tear up within seconds of gargling these days, but my IBS isn’t bothering me enough to make me want to go through that routine as often as it’s required. It still acts up every couple weeks, especially if I eat too much or eat something really spicy, or have a particularly disempowering day. But it’s not usually as severe as it used it be, so I haven’t been doing this exercise. Best wishes to you.
I’ve been suffering for about a year now and really am trying and willing to do anything I can. I have tried this morning and I can get a good tear going. I just wanted to ask you something about the improvement you had noticed. Sorry if it’s too detailed for this site, but by improvement do you mean that you diarrhea went away or that it went away and you went back to passing normal firm stools again. Really appreciate any feedback even if it to an email address.
It went completely back to normal. These days, I’m not really having any trouble with IBS anymore unless I eat something really greasy, spicy, or unless I eat too much food.
Hi Brandon, I have diagnosed ibs just 3 months before….I have gone through few things….like doing yoga meditation and avoiding foods that flares me up…and few medicines…but it helps me lil bit only…I tried This gag and Gargling…just before a week it made me better…but I have a doubt am I doing it correct…coz while doing gargling der s no tears…but while doing gagging lil tears were coming…I think it I’ll really works can u suggest me some ideas r post a video how to do it correctly….plz help me brother ???it would be a great help ??
If it’s been helping you, then you may be doing it right. For some people, it’s harder to get tears with gargling – you have to go very deep and strong. And some people don’t have much of a gag reflex. But the stronger or longer you make it, the more likely you are you get tearing. Best wishes.
Thank you ? ?
This is really interesting. I am probs a few years in to IBS and it’s got to the point where I am looking for answers , hence finding the blog.
I have been following the diets and things which do help but occasionally I have a blow out and symptoms return. The other day (I ended up vomitting after a bout of drinking, (not common, but as a bloke I’m his late 20s, still sometimes gets carried away) anyway, I was very sick and woke up expecting my stomach to be terrible due to the night before but it was better than ever! I had attributed this to losing a lot of food through being sick but now this has got me wondering if gagging helped.
Sorry if this is too much info! Off to try it anyway . Will report back