Root Causes of IBSApr 02, 2023
Gut health issues show up in a variety of ways. Some people deal with chronic bloating, while others might deal with heartburn, skin issues or autoimmune disorders. Symptoms and disorders vary from person to person and the lists are lengthy! Today, we’re going to explore Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States, with most of those affected being females and under the age of 50 (source). It is a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by various gastrointestinal symptoms without any visible signs of damage or disease in your digestive tract. A functional GI disorder occurs when there are problems with how your gut and brain work together, a.k.a. your gut-brain connection, and causes your GI tract to become more sensitive over time.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is also one of the most common conditions for which people consult doctors. Oftentimes, doctors don’t invest time in doing the proper tests to rule out other disorders and IBS becomes a blanket diagnosis. Essentially, a diagnosis of non-diagnosis. This is the problem when multiple disorders have symptoms that overlap. When misdiagnosed, the usage of improper remedies becomes more likely, resulting in additional harm to the gut. For effective healing, proper testing and a comprehensive health history will provide a guaranteed diagnosis of IBS and the type.
Types of IBS:
There are four different types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome so again, symptoms will vary depending on what you’re experiencing.
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C): Your bowel movements are typically hard and lumpy regularly.
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D): Your bowel movements are typically loose and watery regularly.
- IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): You have both IBS-C and IBS-D-type bowel movements on the same day.
- Undefined subtype (IBS-U): Symptoms may vary.
Other Common Symptoms of IBS:
You might also experience other symptoms in addition to bowel movement abnormalities. These include:
- Abdominal pain
- Passage of mucus in stools
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Conventional information will tell you the cause of IBS is “unknown.” Functional medicine and emerging research point to underlying causes:
- Imbalances in the gut microbiome (dysbiosis), which is usually a result of too many strains of bad bacteria and not enough of the good ones.
- Overactivation of the immune system triggered by food or microbes.
- Intestinal permeability, a.k.a leaky gut, due to long-term dysbiosis, immune activation, chronic stress, medications, and/or poor diet.
- Byproducts and/or deficiencies of byproducts related to these problems. This includes a deficiency with short-chain fatty acids, excessive bile acids and gases, histamines, serotonin, and lipopolysaccharides or LPS.
How to Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):
IBS can be treated with targeted nutritional therapies that support the elimination of other diseases like Inflammatory Bowel Disease—a term for Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune condition, Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO—which conventional doctors don’t typically look for, gastritis, and colon cancer.
Supporting IBS Through Your Diet
It’s vital to make diet changes so your body can use the nutrients it needs to heal from within. Here are some recommendations, however, please ensure you are working with a certified health professional to navigate these strategies.
- Stick to a low-FODMAP diet. Reduce fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP).
- Up your Fiber intake. Conventional treatment and misguided popular advice suggest reducing fiber. The opposite is needed. Increasing the right kinds of fiber, depending on symptoms, in the form of whole foods (not supplements) along with proper hydration in a gradual way, as tolerated, has been shown to relieve symptoms and will address the underlying causes mentioned above.
- Pay attention to possible lactose, fructose, sucrose, and sorbitol (sugars) intolerances. The malabsorption and intolerance of certain sugars and sugar alcohols are relatively frequent causes of symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea. Limiting these, as necessary, can relieve symptoms.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates, processed foods, food additives, and caffeine.
Supporting IBS Through Your Lifestyle
In tandem with nutrition support, you can improve IBS with adjustments to your daily routine. Proper meal hygiene and stress management will be at the forefront of these changes.
Reducing stress is also needed for your body to enter rest and digest mode. This allows your nervous system to relax and is beneficial for your overall well-being. Incorporate sustainable strategies that help you settle down and refill your cup!
Good meal hygiene encourages your body to enter rest and digest mode. When you slow down, and remove stress and distractions from meal times, your digestive system has the space to do its thing. To improve your meal hygiene, eat smaller meals, chew food thoroughly and stop when full.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)—Whole Essentials Case Study:
Client A.L. came through Whole Essentials’ doors in September 2022 with these chronic symptoms:
- Acid reflux
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
They had gone to five different Gastrointestinal (GI) doctors and had an endoscopy in August 2022 which came back negative or clear of any major problems and disease. They were prescribed to use Omeprazole, a PPI or proton-pump-inhibitor, used to decrease the amount of stomach acid that’s produced.
This is a very “typical” story for people with chronic digestive problems that might be ultimately diagnosed with IBS. Again, IBS is a diagnosis of non-diagnosis. A scope is used to check for and rule out major diseases. If the scope is negative or clean, patients are typically diagnosed with IBS, prescribed medication, and sent on their way. This patient’s symptoms did not go away using Omeprazole because it’s a band-aid approach. It’s not getting to the root cause of the symptoms.
Emilie, our Head Nutritionist, ran a comprehensive stool test on A.L. It revealed an E.coli infection, giardia infection, H.pylori infection—often a root cause of acid reflux and/or gastritis, dysbiosis, Candida (yeast overgrowth), a low or weakened immune system, and leaky gut.
As you can tell, they had a lot going on that wouldn’t have been healed with a band-aid.
Using the 5R approach to gut restoration, including dietary changes and targeted supplements, four months later, ALL of A.L.’s symptoms have resolved! They’re on a maintenance plan, meaning they need to stick with many of the dietary changes and supplements for a time to fully heal their gut.
Healing a gut takes time and they’re well on their way to health and happiness using an inside-out preventative approach!
When to Seek Professional Help
Consider talking with a doctor or medical professional—functional doctor, naturopath, or gut health nutritionist—if you have symptoms lasting longer than a few days, or if symptoms become a common occurrence.
You should also speak with your doctor if you experience sudden changes or serious symptoms, such as:
- Rectal bleeding
- Persistent pain that isn’t relieved from passing gas or a bowel movement
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
You Don’t Have to Settle For Discomfort!
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