What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive condition where the bowel function is altered and people who suffer from it can experience diarrhea, constipation or sometimes both. IBS is classified based on which symptom is predominant: IBS-D (diarrhea), IBS-C (constipation) or IBS-M (mixed). Other symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, urgency to have a bowel movement, changes in mood, fatigue, menstrual irregularities, headaches and insomnia.
Why Does IBS Develop?
There are many reasons that IBS might develop including infections, food intolerances, and anything that might throw off the gut flora.
Recent or chronic gut infection: A digestive infection, especially one involving diarrhea, can throw off the gut bacteria. The bacteria in the gut help to control frequency of bowel movements, nutrient absorption and gut immunity. If there are high amounts of bad bacteria or pathogens, they can make the gut more "leaky" by interfering with the tight junctions between intestinal wall cells.
Food intolerances: Irritation and inflammation from certain foods like wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy or citrus fruits can alter bowel flora and lead to leaky gut. Mast cells, which release histamine, can also loosen the tight junctions between intestinal cells and cause leaky gut.
Dysbiosis: This just means that the balance of good to bad bacteria in the gut is thrown off. This can happen due to infection, food sensitivity, antibiotic use, poor diet, or stress, just to name a few. We have so many different species of bacteria in our gut and it's a balancing act. The beneficial bacteria keep the bad bacteria in check. But if something happens, like an infection or eating a food you're sensitive to, this balance can favor the opportunistic bacteria and they get a chance to overgrow. There's also a certain strain of bacteria that produce methane, which can affect gut motility, and may lead to IBS-C symptoms.
IBS vs. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBS and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can have similar symptoms. IBD is an umbrella term that encompasses Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. I want to touch on this because IBD can be a serious bowel disease and it's important to know if this is actually what's going on. If you have blood in your stool or are losing weight easily, I'd highly recommend seeing your doctor so they can run further testing and possibly refer you to a gastroenterologist.
What Are Natural Ways to Deal With IBS?
Get Testing: getting a stool test can be a really useful start to figuring out if you have gut infections, dysbiosis, and inflammatory markers. I use the GI-MAP and have found it really useful because it lets me know what infections we need to address, what probiotics would be most beneficial, if leaky gut is going on and how digestion is working in general so we can support it if needed.
Find food sensitivities: this can be done with a blood test or through an elimination diet for common food sensitivities like wheat, eggs, dairy, corn, soy, nightshades and citrus. Finding out if there are foods that are causing inflammation in your gut, affecting gut flora and causing leaky gut is an important part of healing. If you'd like to know more about how to do an elimination diet check out my blog here.
Remove dietary FODMAPs: another group of foods that may contribute to symptoms are foods that contain certain carbohydrates that are broken down by gut bacteria and can cause pain, gas and bloating. Try removing them temporarily while you address other gut issues.
Fructans and oligosaccharides: wheat, white bread, pasta, pastries, cookies, onions, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, garlic, chicory, legumes, cabbage, brussels sprouts
Disaccharides: lactose, dairy, beer
Monosaccharides: fructose, honey, dried fruit, apples, pears, cherries, peaches, agave, watermelon, papaya, high fructose corn syrup
Polyols: sugar alcohols, sorbitol, xylitol
Increase dietary fiber: fiber adds bulk to stool but can also soften it, making it easier to pass so this tip might be more beneficial for those with constipation than diarrhea. Get fiber from fruits and vegetables rather than grains, unless they are gluten-free grains. If you have a hard time digesting vegetables, try cooking them first to start breaking them down. Read this blog The Health Benefits of Fiber and How to Easily Add It To Your Diet to learn more.
Peppermint oil: this herb can relieve cramping, gas, and bloating so you might want to give it a try if you're experiencing these symptoms. One product I like is called Gas and Bloating by Gaia herbs.
Probiotics: these live microorganisms may help to relieve pain, bloating, and BM frequency as they help to restore the balance of the microbiome. Commonly used strains include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces boulardii.
Get restful sleep: mood is often affected in IBS because of the imbalanced serotonin, which is made in the gut. Poor sleep can make mood symptoms worse so getting good sleep is important. You might want to try calming herbs, melatonin, mediation or create an evening routine to wind down before bed. Read these blogs if you'd like to learn more about getting a good night's sleep:
Symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, urgency to have a bowel movement and changes in mood. IBS might develop due to infections, food intolerances, and anything that might throw off the gut flora. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can mimic symptoms of IBS and should be evaluated by your doctor. Natural tips for IBS include getting stool testing, finding food sensitivities, removing FODMAPs, dietary fiber, peppermint oil, probiotics and getting restful sleep.
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