Throughout this article series, I have been discussing ways to keep our digestive system healthy and prevent conditions such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). We also have the following in our series:
In this final article in the series, we will look at the various treatments available for IBS –summarizing some of the ideas discussed earlier in this series, and looking at some things we haven’t yet explored.
In my experience, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this condition. Recovery requires you to learn to recognize and manage your triggers. That is why when I first evaluate someone for IBS, I try to look for and address any of the common risk factors. I almost always start with food allergy testing, and I may also recommend a stool analysis and/or a SIBO breath test. Once we have identified any underlying causes, I make sure to address those as part of my treatment. Some of the most common risk factors for IBS are:
Diet is the first place to start when trying to identify the causes of your IBS symptoms. You may have already identified some of your dietary triggers, such as spicy or oily foods. However, it’s also important to take the ‘delay IgG’ food allergy test to identify any other foods that might be causing inflammation and upsetting your digestive system. You can read more about this test on my Food Sensitivities and Allergies Treatment Program.
Identifying your food sensitives gives you the power to reduce the frequency of irritable bowel incidences. Alongside this, I suggest you try the low-FODMAP diet. FODMAP foods have been identified as causing much of the gas, bloating, and cramping associated with IBS. To read more about FODMAP foods, please read my previous article entitled The Low-FODMAP Diet and Its Role in Treating IBS.
Fiber has many benefits: it feeds the gut microbe, it moves the stool through the intestines, it lowers cholesterol, and it binds to fluid in the colon, preventing diarrhea. Therefore, ensuring you consume the right type and amount of fiber helps keep the intestines working properly.
However, bear in mind that for some people, high-fiber foods can cause increased bloating and pain. That’s why it’s important to learn about the different types of fiber and which kind is right for you. I discussed this in my previous article, What Is Fiber, and Why Is It Vital for Digestive Health?
Addressing the micro-ecology of the gut is key to treating IBS. It has been shown that low-grade inflammation associated with changes in the gut microbiome contribute to intestinal barrier dysfunction. “Changes” include the introduction of antibiotics, which kill off not just bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria we need to maintain gut health. Steroids, viruses, and parasites can also contribute to alteration in the gut ecology.
Intestinal barrier dysfunction leads to leaky gut and food allergies, and affects the body’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. This, in turn, causes yet more inflammation and exacerbates IBS symptoms. One way to break this vicious cycle is to take a high-quality probiotic containing 40-50 million CFUs (colony-forming units) per serving. Probiotic strains beneficial for IBS include:
It is not necessary to take all these strains of probiotics at the same time. Some brands may have multiple probiotic strains in each capsule. The best approach is to start with one probiotic strain and if, after a few months, you see no improvement, switch to a different strain or formula produced by a different company.
It’s also worth checking whether you have developed an intestinal biofilm. This sticky film that covers the intestinal layer is a slimy home made by unwanted “bugs” living in the gut. To address this, I recommend to my patients a formula developed by Dr Paul Anderson, available from a compounded pharmacy called Biosolve PA. This formula contains DMPS, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and Bismuth. This is made by a pharmacist and therefore needs a doctor’s prescription.
A recent study published in Physiological Reports demonstrated that serum-derived bovine immunoglobulin (SBI) or protein isolate can also help improve the cell barrier function in the gut, thus helping to heal leaky gut (one of the main contributors to IBS).
The job of the gallbladder is to store the bile and release it into the small intestine after we have eaten a fatty meal. Bile helps us to digest fats. The release of bile from the gallbladder also helps aid in peristalsis, which keeps the intestine moving, and it helps in the elimination of cholesterol from the body (cholesterol is one of the ingredients of bile). For all these reasons, when the gallbladder is not working properly you don’t digest your fats as well, and you can experience abdominal pain, nausea, gas, and bloating.
Changing your diet and introducing certain beneficial herbs can help keep the gallbladder healthy and therefore prevent IBS. To read more about this, refer to my previous article, What the Gallbladder Does & How to Avoid Gallbladder Disease.
Some people notice an improvement in their IBS symptoms when they start taking a digestive enzyme with meals. The supplement may contain various ingredients, including HCL for stomach acid, ox bile for gallbladder support, and pancreatic enzymes such as amylase, protease, and lipase. You may take the supplement with meals to ensure optimal digestion and reduce symptoms of gas, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation. Some people may only take digestive enzyme supplements for a few months, while others may continue to take them for many years.
The digestive system is controlled by the nervous system. Therefore, when you are under stress and your nervous system is working overtime, this can lead to IBS symptoms. Thus, learning to manage stress helps manage IBS symptoms. There are many ways to manage our stress, including exercise, meditation, massage, bio feedback, hot baths, and walks. Anything that puts the body into a relaxed state helps with stress.
Acupuncture has been demonstrated to improve digestion, and relieve diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and other digestive symptoms. It is also amazing for pain and helping the body recover from symptoms of stress.
If acupuncture is a treatment option you’d like to consider, you can read more about the acupuncture services we offer here at A Path to Natural Health at http://apathtonaturalhealth.com/acupuncture/.
There are many herbs that can be used to treat IBS, and they can be prepared in a variety of ways – drunk in teas, swallowed in pill form, or taken as an oil extract or a tincture (an alcohol extract of the medicinal part of the plant).
The types of herbs you use may vary depending upon your underlying IBS triggers, but the list includes lemon balm(Melissa) or chamomile for a nervous stomach, and peppermint or fennel for cramping, gas, and bloating. There are many over-the-counter digestive teas. Try a few that contain different herbs and see which are more helpful.
The key to treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome is to take control of your health and not let IBS control you. By identifying your digestive triggers, you have the power to keep your symptoms at bay. Remember there is no one-size-fits-all solution to IBS. It might help to keep a food journal and log your digestive symptoms, to figure out what foods are contributing to your symptoms. However, some days you may have a flare-up and be unable to determine the exact cause. Try not to get too frustrated when that happens, and keep your eye on the goal: to make your IBS episodes fewer and further apart.
If you or someone you know suffers with dietary or digestive problems, I invite you to drop me a line on the “contact us” page on this site and request a free initial consultation to discuss your needs. I treat patients locally at my practice in Issaquah, Washington, and worldwide via phone or Skype.
This concludes our series on digestive health. Be sure to look out for the next series coming in May 2017. I hope you’ll subscribe to this blog so you can receive that, and all future publications on A Path to Natural Health.
“Health is a journey we travel over our lifetime.
Learn everything you can to make your journey a happier one.”