Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal health condition that I come across in my nutrition & health clinic. I know it far too well as I was personally diagnosed with it by a gastroenterologist in 2008. Not happy just to live with the symptoms I was keen to find a route to reaching my optimum health.
The news you might not want to hear is that there is no quick and easy magic cure for IBS. However there are many routes to explore to get to the root cause and if you get there, you will learn so much more about how to reduce the risk and prevent the flair up of symptoms. The changes are nutrition and lifestyle based and once embraced, will really benefit your overall health, joy in living and longevity.
So what is IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
It is characterized by recurrent irritation and inflammation of the large intestine, resulting in abdominal bloating and pain that is relieved by bowel movements.
- Disturbed bacterial microflora as a result of antibiotic or antacid usage
- Laxative abuse
- Stress and emotional conflict that results in anxiety or depression
- Food intolerance
- Carbohydrate maldigestion &/or malabsorption
- Disease promoting diet
- Refined sugar intake – leading to bacterial overgrowth
- Stress – disrupts digestive enzymes that are released to breakdown food
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Genetic link
- Metabolic disorders, such as adrenal insufficiency, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism
- Mechanical causes, such as fecal impaction.
As you can see from the above list, many of these causes are interrelated, and often there’s no single root cause of IBS. Because getting to the root can be complex, that where it’s worth getting support to personalise a plan of action.
NB. It’s important that you have consulted your GP first to properly diagnose IBS and to rule out any other condition that may mimic IBS e.g. cancer, diverticular disease, inflammatory bowel disease.
Signs and Symptoms
- Cramp like pain in the middle or to one side of the lower abdomen
- Pain usually relieved with bowel movements
- Loose or more frequent painful bowel movements
- Diarrhea or constipation, usually alternating
- Symptoms of upset stomach: flatulence, nausea, loss of appetite
- Headache, backache
- Rectal pain
- Varying degrees of anxiety or depression
- Excessive secretion of colonic mucus
Did you know?
A Nutritional Therapist can recommend and interpret the following functional tests (to help uncover the root cause of your IBS symptoms). The type of test recommended is based on a comprehensive review of your health history, current diet and symptoms.
– Comprehensive Stool Analysis + Comprehensive Parasitology
– Small intestinal bowl overgrowth (SIBO) test
– Food intolerance tests
– Adrenal stress tests
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and simple sugars (refined foods)
- Get adequate sleep (8 hours nightly). Poor sleep quality correlates with an increase in both the severity and frequency of IBS symptoms
- Don’t smoke.
- Learn to deal with stress constructively. Meditate, pray, learn stress reduction techniques, exercise. Take the time to discover which practices help and build them into a lifestyle to improve your overall health.
- Choose a health-promoting diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods.
- Under supervision of a Nutritional Therapist, identify and eliminate allergenic foods as the majority of patients with IBS have at least one food allergy. It is also important to follow a protocol to heal the gut lining once foods are removed so that the immune & digestive system can be restored to optimum health and where possible the foods can then be re-introduced. Nutritional Therapists are well trained to support here.
- FODMAPs help but are they the solution? FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-,Di and Mono-saccharides, and Polyols) are a collection of molecules in food, that can be poorly absorbed by some people. If these molecules are incompletely digested they can be fermented by gut bacteria causing some of the main symptoms of IBS(1). It is accepted as an effective treatment for IBS and provides relief for about 75% of patients (2) but the effect is reversed with re-introduction. So is this getting to the root cause or just a sticky plaster? A nutritional therapist is trained to look for the root cause as mentioned earlier.
- Eat 4 hours before bedtime sleep and no later.
1. Gibson R & Shepherd S Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2010;25.
2. Rangnekar AS et al Gastroenterology 2009;137