I’VE BEEN TOLD I HAVE IBS. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? WHAT CAN I DO?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the name given to a condition that effects the digestive system. It consists of frequent abdominal discomfort and bowel symptoms that cause either constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of both that cannot be explained by any other disease. Roughly 60 millions Americans (20%) deal with IBS.
There is no single effective treatment. It is different for everyone so the symptoms one person experiences will be different for another. In the same way, what treatment works for one person won’t work for another.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
The symptoms vary from person to person affecting people at different times and in different ways. If a person is going through a particularly stressful time, the stress and anxiety may cause a flare-up of their IBS or intensify their symptoms.
Abdominal cramps, often relieved by going to the toilet
Heartburn and indigestion
Needing to pass urine frequently
Ringing in the ears
What can you do to treat IBS?
There is no one treatment that works for everyone. If you have heard from a doctor that you are going to have to deal with IBS for the rest of your life because there is no cure, have no fear! You may have even heard that IBS is all in your head and been prescribed an anti-depressant. This just covers up the symptoms temporarily. The key to living well with IBS is self-management. This means learning to recognize your triggers and understanding your symptoms. Once you have a better understanding of what is happening in your body you will be able to explore what treatments work best for you. In a future blog I will discuss the benefits of keeping a wellness and food journal where you can track symptoms and triggers.
Can IBS be cured?
Absolutely! The key is an individualized approach. You can take all the prescriptions to stop stomach spasms, prevent diarrhea and treat depression but they don’t address the root cause. IBS can be cured naturally.
The first step to understanding your root cause and coming up with a treatment plan is to test. Testing for food allergies or sensitivities will give you an idea which foods you should crowd out over the course of 8 – 12 weeks or longer. You could alternatively try an elimination diet for a three weeks. With this food plan you eliminate the most common food allergens for 3 weeks and then reintroduce them to see if they cause symptoms. This is an effective way to isolate the foods that may be causing you problems.
Additionally, you may want to test for an infection such as SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth). If that test is positive, you’ll want to get rid of the unwanted visitors in your small intestine. This can be treated with a longer course antibiotic or natural antimicrobial.
Once you have removed trigger foods and replaced with more gut appropriate food options, you’ll want to repopulate your digestive tract with good bacteria. Probiotics are very individualized but, I tend to recommend soil-based organism probiotics. Ones that are shelf stable and don’t require refrigeration. I like Bacillus coagulans, Bacillus subtillis, Bacillus clausii and S. boulardii.
I always recommend digestive enzymes with meals to help break down food while your gut heals. You also may benefit from nutrients that help heal the lining of the gut including glutamine, marshmallow root, licorice root and zinc.
How does stress play a role?
A key component to overcoming IBS is to find ways to address stress in your life. New research is consistently coming out that shows the connect between the gut and brain. In fact there is now a term for this connection – the gut–brain axis (GBA). It consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions.
If the gut and brain are so directly connected it would make sense that only taking care of the physical side of bowel function without addressing the mental aspect will yield low success. The ways in which stress can be addressed are numerous. For some simply setting aside 5 minutes at the start of the day for meditation and reflection will be enough. For others a more consistent yoga practice or nightly journaling exercises will be needed.
I have only begun to scratch the surface on IBS but, if you are tired of suffering with the debilitating symptoms of IBS and are feeling ready to work with a health practitioner on your gut health: book a free consult with me and let’s see how I can support you. I highly recommend before you take on any dietary adjustments or lifestyle changes that you talk with and consider working with a professional who is skilled in understanding your bioindividual needs.
I’m Dawn! As a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, I teach people how to nourish their body & mind with real foods and complimentary practices such as meditation, journaling and yoga. My mission is to help each individual I see achieve their specific personal health goals – most specifically by healing digestive issues and the underlying causes. I believe no two clients are alike and aim to address your specific goals and needs.
I will give you the knowledge, tools, support and guidance you need to create a thriving, healthy, happy lifestyle. So if you are stuck in a cycle of not feeling well – even when you feel like you eat healthy and exercise appropriately – please reach out! Together we can get you feeling your best.