IBS doesn't have to mean
"indefinitely being sick"
With as many as one in five people thought to be affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), experts are now talking about an 'epidemic'.
The disorder, which is characterised by gut pain, bloating and diarrhoea, can be triggered by a spell of food poisoning or antibiotics, but often there may be no obvious culprit.
Some studies suggest a genetic link; IBS is also strongly associated with stress and anxiety resulting (amongst other things) from modern, hectic lifestyles and poor diet.
But there are concerns that the condition is being over-diagnosed and, as a result, either other, more serious conditions are being missed or more likely, wrong treatment is being unnecessarily prescribed.
Sufferers often struggle with miserable, often disabling symptoms like bloating, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation, and pain. There are numerous culprits which contribute to IBS. Your gut lining can break down from different things, such as: stress, too many antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin or Advil and steroids), intestinal infections, a low-fibre/high-sugar diet, alcohol and even C-sections.
These and other causes trigger and activate an immune response, sparking food allergies and aggravating your “second brain” (the enteric nervous system aka the gut), acting like a demolition ball that leads to IBS. It isn’t just your bowel that can become affected, it can also affect your mood, your energy levels, and many other conditions.
Traditionally IBS was thought to be a psychological condition. More recently science proves that’s completely wrong. Unfortunately, conventional healthcare professionals often tell patients there is no cure, it’s a mental condition, or they prescribe antidepressants, sedatives, and other medications that could potentially make things worse.
Obviously, this is not the right answer. To treat IBS, you need to address the underlying causes of why your digestion is on the fritz. That’s where conventional medicine usually flunks and Functional Medicine comes into play.
In Functional Medicine, we take for granted that one disease can have different causes (or that one cause can create many diseases, for example as we know it to be in relation gluten). Basically, different patients suffer from IBS for different reasons, and therefore each individual require that we focus on getting to the root cause of their individual disease. In other words, there is no magical one cure fits all.
Research tells us that two of the biggest causes of irritable bowel are food allergies and overgrowth of bad bacteria in the small intestine. There may be other causes, including a lack of digestive enzymes, parasites living in the gut, zinc or magnesium deficiency, and heavy metal toxicity.
For this reason, personalised treatment is critical and should be based on the unique circumstances of each sufferer. The solution is defiantly not a silver bullet, but it can certainly be found if we look carefully at the underlying causes and treat accordingly.
Let’s start by briefly looking at the two principal causes of IBS and then discuss how they can be treated.
Food allergies or sensitivities
It is a well-established principle that eliminating foods which are identified through delayed food allergy testing (IgG antibodies) resulted in dramatic improvements in IBS symptoms. Therefore, we must respect and recognise the role of food allergies and inflammation in IBS.
Essentially this means that certain foods can irritate your bowel and digestive system. These food sensitivities aren’t a true allergy, like a peanut allergy or shellfish allergy, but rather a milder food sensitivity that can cause awful symptoms.
Of the many common food sensitivities, gluten and yeast are perhaps is most prevalent. Even if your healthcare practitioner tells you that your tests for gluten or yeast antibodies or celiac are normal, you can still have a severe reaction. Dairy products, which contain proteins such as casein and whey that can irritate and inflame your gut, is another common trigger.
There are others, including soy, corn, and eggs. Reactions to these foods can cause more than just gut problems. They can also create obesity, depression, acne and other inflammatory diseases.
Your Functional Medicine practitioner can run tests to assess food sensitivities and reactions. Or you could do an elimination diet, which along with sugary and junky foods, eliminates the most common food sensitivities
The surface area of the small intestine, where food is absorbed, is about the size of a tennis court. 60 percent of our immune system is located in there. This sophisticated gut-immune system is just one cell lining away from a toxic gutter which is the part of the gut that contains all of the bacteria and undigested food particles. If that lining cracks, the immune system will be exposed to foreign particles from food, bacteria, and other microbes.
basically, you can’t be healthy if the gut microbial ecosystem isn’t healthy. When your gut bacteria are out of whack — when you have too many pathogenic bacteria and not enough healthy bacteria —you become ill.
Among all that gut bacteria, there are good bacteria, bad bacteria, and bacteria from hell.
If the bad bacteria take over, or if they move into areas that they shouldn’t be (like the small intestine which is normally neutral), they can start fermenting the food digested, particularly sugar or starch based foods.
Imbalances in your gut ecosystem that can trigger or aggravate IBS include leaky gut, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and yeast overgrowth. While conventional approaches to treating these and other gut problems usually becomes condition-specific, the secret to reversing them is based on fixing the guy by getting rid of the bad stuff and putting in the right stuff.
Diagnosis and Testing
You should be assessed for IBS if you have had any of the following symptoms for at least six months:
abdominal (stomach) pain or discomfort
a change in bowel habit – such as passing stools more frequently, diarrhoea and/or constipation
A diagnosis of IBS will then be considered if you have stomach pain or discomfort that is either relieved by passing stools, or is associated with a need to go to the toilet frequently or a change in the consistency of your stools.
This should be accompanied by at least two of the following four symptoms:
a change in how you pass stools – such as needing to strain, feeling a sense of urgency or feeling you have not emptied your bowels properly
bloating, hardness or tension in your stomach
your symptoms get worse after eating
passing mucus from your back passage
Ruling out other conditions
Many cases of IBS can be diagnosed based on your symptoms alone, although sometimes further tests may be needed to check for other possible causes.
For example, your healthcare professional may arrange blood tests to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as an infection or celiac disease (a digestive condition where a person has an adverse reaction to gluten).
A sample of your stools will also often be tested for the presence of a substance called calprotectin. This substance is produced by the gut when it is inflamed, and its presence in your stools could mean your symptoms are being caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
A more advanced test called IBStatus can be done privately (since it’s not offered on the National Health System. This test includes the presence of calprotectin and in addition the following:
Entamoeba histolytica EIA
Giardia lamblia EIA
Pancreatic Elastase 1
IBStatus offers a concise look at the overall health of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is a non-invasive evaluation that uses biotechnology to evaluate digestion, absorption, inflammation, and parasite infection. This test is designed to specifically help identify inflammatory conditions (including subclinical inflammation), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), NSAID enteropathy, and post-infectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
The Biggest Change You Can Make to Treat IBS
If you suffer from IBS, you are most probably looking for quick relief. The biggest change you can make to get remarkable, almost-immediate results is to transform your diet.
This is very easily done and all it take is going on an anti-inflammatory diet which is low in allergens, refined carbohydrates, sugars, and all processed foods. It’s always a good idea to maintain a food journal and note what you eat and how you feel after each meal. You might also want to consider removing foods that are difficult for digestion, such as grains and legumes.
Tactics to Eliminate IBS
Due to the fact that there are likely to be many underlying issues which can contribute to IBS, testing and working with a Functional Medicine practitioner is the best way forward. Having said that, however, simply applying the following ‘tricks’ and other strategies can help reverse or prevent IBS and create a heavenly gut.
Stay away from all processed junk food. Including soft drinks, juices, and diet drinks, which influence sugar and lipid metabolism. Liquid sugar calories (those you get from sugary drinks and alcohol) are the biggest single contributor to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Get lots of protein into your diet. Adding protein to every meal (including breakfast) will help avoiding the blood sugar imbalances that feed the bad gut bacteria, eat protein with every meal, even at breakfast. Best is always to eat fresh and sustainably raised animal protein, such as fish, turkey, chicken, and lean cuts of lamb. Ensure to have plenty of vegetable protein such as nuts, beans, seeds, and tofu.
Eat plenty of high-fibre foods. Whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit are all great sources of healthy fibre.
Do not shy away from healthy fat. Increase omega-3 fatty acids by eating wild caught salmon, sardines, herring, flaxseeds, and seaweed. Use more grass-fed or organic animal products. Eliminate all hydrogenated fats which are found in margarine, shortening, and processed oils, and in many baked goods and processed foods. Instead use healthy oils, such as coconut oil, olive (especially extra virgin olive oil), cold pressed sesame, red palm oil, and other nut oils.
Eat at least 8 to 10 servings of colourful fruits and vegetables every day. They contain disease fighting vitamins, minerals, fibre, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory substances.
Add vitamins and nutrients to your diet. Eradicating IBS requires not only to clean up your gut but also to replenish it with healthy stuff. Zinc, vitamin A, glutamine, omega-3 fats (fish oil), and evening primrose oil are among the nutrients that help fix the gut lining. I also recommend use herbs like quercetin and turmeric to reduce inflammation and restore a leaky gut.
Reintroduce good bacteria to your gut. Take a specialised probiotic a couple of times a day for two to three months. Start gradually and witness how the probiotics affect your gut. In some cases, some people may need to delay probiotics until their gut is in a better condition. Eating fermented foods such as kimchi or kefir are wonderful alternatives to probiotics.
Reduce stress. Stress is a real biggy when it comes to IBS. I cannot stress (pun intended) that enough! Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga are all great ways to reduce stress. I recommend Hearthmath for stress-busting.
Get 7-8 hours’ of shut-eye. Not sleeping enough can make you fat and leads to depression, pain, heart disease, diabetes, and man many other maladies. There are also certain types of food that can prevent a good night sleep.
Exercise regularly. Anything that gets you off your butt is good (excluding walking to the fridge). Even as little as 30 minutes of vigorous walking can help, and if you want something more intense, try high-intensity interval training or weight resistance. Regardless of your current condition, reducing your ab-flab is crucial.