Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is quickly becoming one of the most common reasons for a patient to visit his primary care physician. It plagues nearly 25% of the world wide population, with the majority being in the United States. The disorder is becoming such a problem in today’s society, that we have an entire month (April) dedicated to the awareness of IBS!
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? It is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, and altered bowel habits. Unfortunately, conventional medicine has not been very successful at managing cases involving IBS. They tend to look at the most prominent symptom, usually either constipation or diarrhea (or in some cases the combination of both) and “treat” it by suppressing the symptoms. This approach, however, never truly determines the underlying cause for why the body manifests these symptoms. For example, a common treatment for a patient suffering from chronic diarrhea is to have them take Imodium on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this does not treat the cause for IBS and if you take away the Imodium, the patient begins to suffer again.
What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Good question! Researchers have yet to pinpoint a specific cause. Since the term IBS is used to identify such a wide variety of symptoms as well as multiple different presentations of the symptoms, it makes finding the root cause challenging. In my humble opinion, this is often a diagnosis used when your primary care physician or gastroenterologist can’t figure out what’s wrong! So let’s breakdown the GI tract and how food and chemicals plays a role.
Digestion- could this be the cause? Digestion is a relatively complex process! For a quick reminder of how the digestive system works, check out this quick YouTube video. If there is disruption in any part of the process, symptoms can result. For example, if there is a problem in the stomach and food is not being properly broken down before entering the intestines there can be negative results. First, the body may try and push the food particles through the digestive tract too quickly, resulting in diarrhea. In contrast, the body may have trouble getting the undigested food through the system resulting in constipation. Determining the location of the “problem” in the digestive tract is the key to helping resolve the symptoms.
Is what we eat a problem? Absolutely! Our digestive tracts were not designed to handle the high levels of processed foods consumed today. In all honesty, we should just get rid of the middle of the grocery store and we’d all be better off. A diet of whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and meats is the way to go! It’s not just what we’re eating, but also what we’re drinking. Water and some natural herbal teas are the only beverages considered healthy for the body. Juices, flavored drinks, sodas, etc. provide no nutrient value and simply tax the body by adding sugar or, in the case of “diet” drinks, fake sugars into the system. This is one of the most challenging areas to address with patients due to the addictive qualities of these drinks. If you suffer from any IBS-like symptoms, an easy first step is just sticking with good old H2O!
Do antibiotics and other medications play a role? Antibiotics are frequently over prescribed today. Although they are necessary in some scenarios, there is no denying the impact antibiotics have on the digestive tract. We have trillions of healthy, beneficial bacteria in our intestines that assist in the overall proper balance within the digestive tract. Unfortunately, antibiotics do not differentiate between the good and bad bacteria in the body. Just one round of antibiotics can completely disrupt the lower part of the intestinal system resulting in those IBS-like symptoms. “Probiotics” is becoming a household product and should be used when antibiotics are necessary. Some people taking Probiotics on a daily basis find it extremely beneficial because of their personal health history. We often recommend ProSynbiotic and Lact-Enz for our patients.
In addition to antibiotics, the over prescribing of “acid reflux” medication results in the improper digestion of our foods starting with the stomach. It is necessary to have enough acid in the stomach to breakdown our foods for nutrient absorption. We are often recommending nutritional supplements such as Multizyme and Zypan by Standard Process to help people break down their foods better using natural digestive enzymes which can alleviate many of the symptoms of IBS.
How can we help? If you or a loved one suffer from IBS, I hope that you have gained some knowledge and ask more questions at your next doctor’s appointment. Dr. Amanda has both personal experience with digestive complaints and professional experience helping patients change their dietary lifestyles and is a great resource of information. Give Body Logic a call, schedule an initial nutrition consultation, and let’s work together to determine the best nutrition for you!