Irritable Bowel Syndrome
This subject is very near and dear to my heart, because I was afflicted with IBS symptoms for years. It was an unruly, unpredictable, and unavoidably painful part of my life. At one point my IBS anxiety and stomach pains were so pronounced, that I didn’t want to leave my house! I imagine my fear of leaving the house because of my IBS symptoms, would be much like how a vampire would feel about facing daylight; as if leaving the comfort of my home assured my inevitable demise and death. Perhaps that’s a dramatic example, but for those of you who have not suffered from IBS symptoms, I think I got my point across. Just in case though, here is a glimpse of what leaving my house DID look like…
When I did leave my house, I would track (seriously) hospitals along my route in case I had to stop due to my IBS pain. I had tried multiple different kinds of drugs, but nothing worked until I found the functional medicine approach. Instead of covering up my symptoms with IBS medication, I did the testing to see what was causing my IBS symptoms. After correcting the problems in my gut, and being on a proper gut health diet, my health began to skyrocket! I have done this with myself and countless others, and have seen incredible changes. So what is really causing those IBS symptoms?
IBS and digestive disease affects millions of Americans
Did you know up to 70 million people have some kind of digestive disease in America? And up to 50 million suffer specifically from IBS! Think that’s astounding? Check this out!
Annual costs of digestive disease and IBS
According to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, digestive diseases have an annual price tag of $42 Billion. Yes, that is suppose to be a B, not an M!
They are also the second leading cause of missed work.
Conventional medicine- functional gastrointestinal disorder- millions of visits per year, leading to millions of prescriptions
Conventional medicine looks for black and white problems in the GI tract, such as tumors, ulcers, and stones. If those are not present, then medications like anti-inflammatories, anti-diarrheals, and laxatives, are usually the first line of treatment. All of these merely covers up IBS symptoms.
If you haven’t caught onto our motto of sorts from all our blogs, covering up is not the answer. Covering up symptoms can lead to bigger problems down the road like uncontrolled inflammation, gut infections, maldigestion leading to nutrient deficiencies, immune problems and even autoimmunity. You can avoid these issues by seeking out a functional medicine institute in your area.
IBS symptoms can vary from person to person and can even be categorized differently: ranging from IBS with constipation, IBS with diarrhea, to IBS with mixed symptoms. However, bloating gas, and abdominal IBS pain seem to be pretty standard across all types of IBS. Some write these symptoms off as an annoyance, but not addressing symptoms or merely covering them up, is likened to painting a broken wall and hoping it gets fixed. For others, these symptoms are severe, and can even be debilitating. Some people have to map out where all the bathrooms are along the route they are going, others carry IBS medication with them in case of severe symptoms.
The thing is, gastrointestinal distress is not limited to gut symptoms. Because most of the immune system is in the gut, and because the brain and gut are intimately connected, and because the gut microbiome control so many functions in our body, any gut imbalances can transfer around the entire body. For example, inflammation in the gut can lead to achy joints, brain fog or memory loss. There is also a direct link to gut health and anxiety or depression symptoms, and many autoimmune conditions.
I believe that people deserve more options than medications when it comes to IBS symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners really shine in gastrointestinal disorders because of their approach. The functional medicine approach is simple: find the root cause and fix it, allowing the gut and body to heal. This can alleviate symptoms, put out inflammation, balance the immune system, detoxify the body, and help absorb nutrients; just to name a few.
So what are the typical causes of IBS?
As a functional medicine practitioner, it is accepted that everyone is unique and all have unique DNA and environments. Because of this, each case is personalized, not a one-size-its-all approach. Given that, these are a few of the frequent causes of IBS symptoms and an IBS diagnosis:
We are really one long tube from our mouth to our…other end. In between we have a gut where we absorb food, produce energy, house the immune system, and so on. The gut lining is actually quite fragile, in fact the lining is only 1 single cells layer thick! One layer of tiny cells protects you from the outside world. When the gut lining gets damaged from stress, toxins, medications, poor diet, or infections, the gut becomes porous due to damage(think of a super, super thin piece of swiss cheese that should look more like a super thin piece of mozzarella). Hence, leaky gut. When this happens food particles, bacteria, and many other particles float freely through the bloodstream, where they should not be. In order to protect us, the immune system (mainly in the gut) sends out chemical messengers to fight off the invaders; a mechanism known as inflammation. This inflammation leads to countless number of symptoms from diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, memory loss, joint pain, fatigue, and many more.
Millions of Americans are infected with parasites every year. They can be acquired from food, water, or just human contact. Gut infections, especially parasites, have the ability to damage the gut lining and alter the immune system; which has a tremendous effect on gut health. This combination leads to many symptoms, although many common parasitic symptoms can include bloating, diarrhea, floating stools, brain fog, and fatigue. Although many can have parasites and be asymptomatic. Finding and treating parasites can be a huge piece of the health puzzle. I’m guessing you’re not particularly fond of those little guys crawling around in there anyway!
Food Allergies or Sensitives
The foods we eat either build us up or break us down. The Standard American Diet is full of toxic chemicals, artificial colors, preservatives, antibiotics, inflammatory fats, sugar, and hormones. These are definitely not part of a good gut health diet. Besides that, it’s great (insert sarcasm)! Many foods can cause damage to the gut lining itself and activate an immune response, leading to symptoms. Now, it can be hard to nail down a symptom to a particular food due to the fact that in some food sensitivities, symptoms may not show up for days, sometimes up to 4. This is why testing for food sensitivities, or doing an elimination diet is so important to see which foods are bothering you. An elimination diet includes getting rid of the most common food sensitivities for 4-6 weeks and then reintroducing 1 at a time to see for reactions. The top food sensitivities are gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, nightshades like tomatoes and peppers, and sugar.
Small amounts of stress can be good for the body. But in today’s fast-paced, microwave-meal, social media world, stress is all around us. When we are exposed to chronic stress, our stress hormones like cortisol (the one that makes your tummy grow) and adrenaline increase. If these stay elevated, this can lead to a break-down state in the body. While trying to stay intact and function, the body will use up different nutrients and body parts to burn for fuel. Amino acids in the gut lining are one the fuels for the body when under attack. This leads to erosion of the gut lining, leading to leaky gut and eventually immune problems. Bottom line: stress has a huge impact on health.
NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, Advil, and Aleve are used for all sorts of symptoms; but mainly for pain relief via inflammation reduction. These are used like candy, and severely overprescribed, in my humble opinion. When taken, these medications can cause damage to not only the gut lining and overall gut health, but to the kidneys, liver, and stomach as well. Instead of continuing to mask symptoms with pain pills, the prudent thing to do would be to find out why you have the pain in the first place…the functional medicine approach.
The human gut has trillions of bacteria, in many different species and families. We want a substantial amount of ‘good’ bacteria and a small amount of ‘bad’ bacteria. We also need the bacteria to be in the correct place in the intestines. SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, is a condition in which bacteria grows out of control in the small intestine, where it should be limited (most of the gut flora is in the large intestine). One study showed that those with IBS were 26 times more likely to have SIBO (WOW). Isn’t that crazy?!
Many with SIBO have symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea, due to food fermenting in the small intestine. While some use antibiotics for SIBO eradication, many herbal remedies along with a proper gut health diet have proven effective.
Candida/ Fungal Overgrowth
Candida (yeast) is found in every human’s gut as a resident. The problem with candida arises when it grows out of control. Candida can become a serious problem if left untreated. This could possibly lead to anemia, high toxic burden, and nutrient depletions to name a few. Multiple different tests can determine if you have candida overgrowth and to what degree. This allows the functional medicine practitioner to tailor the correct treatment for you.
I’ve been there: no hope, constant fear, wondering if your symptoms will ever go away. It’s an undesirable state to say the least, and it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not too late for you!
There is always hope to find your underlying health problem. With functional medicine everyone is unique; therefore everyone’s treatment is unique. Finding and fixing your root cause is extremely empowering. It can put control of your health back into your hands. If you are struggling with IBS symptoms, seek out a functional medicine doctor to get to the root cause of the problem.