By Adrian Schirr of Forum Health Clarkston
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can vary from case to case. It tends to come and go with stress and certain lifestyle changes. Because there is no specific blood test to detect IBS, it must be diagnosed through the symptoms it presents. This is why tracking your symptoms is so important. Before you can interpret the symptoms, however, you’ll need to understand IBS.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a type of gastrointestinal disorder that affects 20-30% of the population. Described as a malfunction in the digestive tract that causes bowel movements to be unpredictable. It can be debilitating, leaving some who suffer with IBS stuck at home, missing work and other commitments. Some of the more serious symptoms that have been reported alter from aches and pain, abdominal cramping, embarrassing diarrhea, and constipation. Other symptoms may include stomach bloating, gas, nausea, heartburn or acid reflux, fatigue, sexual problems, and loss of appetite.
Symptoms? A few questions you should be asking yourself in order to make a better assessment:
1) How often are you going to the bathroom?
2) Do you have abdominal pain that tends to lessen when you use the bathroom?
3) Is there a change in your stool, appearance or consistency, after eating certain foods?
4) Do you feel bloated or gassy after eating?
5) Does exercise help any of your IBS-like symptoms?
6) Do stress and anxiety seem related to your IBS-like symptoms?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, a trip to the doctor may be in order. At Forum Health our Functional Medicine providers can help you to properly diagnose what your disorder may be. IBS symptoms are closely related to other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and even Leaky Gut. To avoid a misdiagnosis, it is important to rule out any other potential illnesses.
Using a Functional Medicine approach—a more holistic look at symptoms—clinicians have been able to identify potential underlying causes of IBS. There are certain lifestyle and environmental factors that have been found to play a role in the development of the condition. One foremost factor that determines how the digestive system works depends on stress levels and mood. This makes sense when considering how the gut and the brain connect. Through a link (the vagus nerve), the gut receives signals from the central nervous system (brain and spine). When the brain is off balance with stress and anxiety, that signal can cause the gut to become unpredictable.
Other factors include:
- Psychological Factors: depression or anxiety
- Chronic Stress: both mental and physical
- Food Sensitivities: allergies to dairy, gluten, and certain carbohydrates, foods that are hard to digest
- Changes in Sleep
- Hormonal Imbalances: menstruation, menopause, or pregnancy
Once a/our doctor has determined that you do suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it is important to know that there is relief out there, but it is up to you to make the necessary changes. One of the most important changes to implement is the food you give your body, which will also have to be done with a process of exclusion. Because no two bodies are the same, each person will react differently to various foods; therefore, an elimination diet is key.
What can you do?
Common foods to avoid are added sugars, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol, gluten, dairy, onions and garlic. You’ll want to include a program with customized digestive support and supplements like probiotics to realign the gut with healthy bacteria; and enzymes to aid in digestion and absorption. Although it is easier said than done, you’ll need to find ways to reduce stress in your life. Start by meditating for a few minutes every day, or by implementing a yoga class into your week.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a complex GI disorder. It affects nearly 30% of the population, causing many significant impairments as those who suffer must miss work and other obligations. As research advances, however, patients and doctors are finding success when taking a holistic approach to address the underlying causes of the condition. These natural therapies, in turn, have shown to alleviate IBS symptoms without using the conventional therapies that have been known to cause side effects.
Always remember: if you give your body the proper environment, it will heal itself! We can create a plan to treat your IBS symptoms and get you the relief you are craving!
The Standard. “Inflammatory Bowel Disease & Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Understanding, Distinguishing, and Addressing,” 10(1), 2010