IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is generally considered a diagnosis of exclusion by the medical community. What this means is that, the common pattern of symptoms associated with IBS such as, bloating, abdominal pain and cramping, loose and/or frequent stools, sometimes alternating with constipation, burping and /or passing gas do not seem to have an ‘organic’ or infectious cause, and these symptoms cannot be attributed to either of the following:
Since the symptoms are present with the absence of a plausible cause, a diagnosis cannot be established due to lack of apparent cause and therefore, the ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ i.e. IBS, is assigned to patients with such symptoms.
With no apparent cause, IBS patients are conventionally treated with prescription or over-the-counter medications such as antacids, laxatives, anti-diarrhea pills, anti-nausea pills and gas relievers such as Simethicone that provide symptom relief. Some patients are also referred to psychotherapy because of a well established correlation of mental anxiety with IBS. Note that this is correlation and not a causation. It can be a debilitating diagnosis as it affects family, work and social life for most patients with having to excuse oneself for urgent bathroom breaks or plan a family vacation around accessibility to the restrooms or simply face the embarrassment of “whodunit” when they pass odorous gas!
In naturopathic medicine, since the the focus the is on treating the root cause instead of symptom relief, I always begin with investigating these three main factors that may be responsible for irritating your bowel system:
1) Anything coming in contact with the lining of the bowels
Investigating foods that you eat on a regular basis to check for food sensitivities and delayed allergic reactions is critical. Most common culprits in this arena include dairy, gluten containing grains, corn, nuts, soy but you maybe sensitive to a food that is generally considered healthy and nutrition packed. Examples of such foods include:
Besides food, medications, supplements and unfiltered tap water are other causes for
irritating the intestinal lining and are reviewed as well.
2) Imbalance in the gut flora
Whether it is due to a recent course of antibiotics or an extended period of stress, the balance of normal friendly bacteria in the digestive system can be greatly affected. There are multiple species and strains of bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea that live in the digestive tract and some have a much more beneficial presence than others. The beneficial strains assist in functions such as digestion, absorption, immune signaling and even neurotransmitter balance. The non-beneficial strains may not be pathogenic (i.e. disease causing) but still be contributing to IBS symptoms by competing for resources with the beneficial bugs.
3) Lack of adequate enzymes leading to improper digestion
Chronic stress, antimicrobials and medications can negatively affect the production of the natural digestive “juices” such as enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCL), that are crucial for the appropriate break down of foods into the macro and micro nutrients. These macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats need to be further broken down into the building blocks for our body to assimilate and utilize for its various functions. When foods are improperly digested, symptoms such as gas, bloating, pain can result in the short-term but can have a much more serious long-term impact due to resulting nutrient deficiencies and chronic disease.
Identifying and correcting these three factors frequently result in both immediate symptom relief and the long lasting benefit of ‘calmer’ and ‘not so irritable’ bowels. With such a multifactorial approach, patients often report that their bowels appear to be less affected by their mental-emotional state, indicating a much more resilient digestive system.
If you or someone you know, suffer through the inconvenience and social withdrawal associated with IBS, please contact our office to set up a free consultation.