IBS is one of the most common complaints that I see in my clinic. I would estimate that around 80% of my patients suffer from some type of digestive complaint. IBS can include many different types of digestive symptoms such as bloating or discomfort, abdominal pains, cramping and episodes of diarrhoea and/or constipation. IBS is not a ‘disease’ in itself, more of a label for a set of symptoms. It is said that IBS affects about 20% of the population. Being diagnosed with IBS can be very frustrating, as the cause is often unknown and there is no real medical treatment. It is often put down to stress or anxiety and while this is the case for some, there are many, many other causes that are often overlooked in the medical world.
While there are plenty of effective and well researched herbal and nutritional medicines that can alleviate the symptoms of IBS , finding the cause of your symptoms should always be the ultimate aim. With my patients, there are many triggers that we are able to identify, and this gives you a way of managing your symptoms for the rest of your life WITHOUT the need for medications for supplements. It also means you do not have to put up with the uncomfortable symptoms of IBS!! Once the triggers are identified you can gain good long term control over your symptoms.
Here are the most common causes of IBS that I see in my clinic:
Food sensitivities or intolerances- I test all of my IBS patients for food intolerances. Imagine if you could control your symptoms simply by changing a few things in your diet. Common food sensitivities include foods such as wheat, dairy, gluten or yeast but sometimes simple and obscure foods such as almonds, banana or avocados might be the cause.
Dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance) – A healthy adult digestive system has between 1-3.5kgs of bacteria sitting within the small and large intestines and it is important that the balance of this bacteria is correct. We should have around 20% ‘bad’ or detrimental bacteria and 80% ‘good’ healthy strains. If this balance is upset a whole host of digestive symptoms can occur as the bacteria are essential for the breakdown of food and nutrient absorption. Fermentation occurs if these bacteria are out of balance and gas and bloating with trapped wind and often pain is a common result.
Poor liver and/or gall bladder function- Our liver is responsible for producing bile, a substance that breaks down fats and alcohol. The gallbladder stores this bile and releases it after meals to break down and digest fats. Bloating will occur if bile is not in adequate levels. Our digestive system also uses bile as a natural laxative to clear food remnants through the digestive tract therefore low levels can lead to constipation and irregular bowel movements. Low bile flow can also lead to loose bowel movements as your body will want to get rid of fats if they cannot be digested properly.
Low stomach acids- Our stomach acids need to be at a high level at meal time in order to ensure the first stage of digestion takes places- breaking down our food into small molecules for absorption further down the digestive tract. Our stomach acids are also very important for protein breakdown. If protein is not properly digested, it will lead to fermentation which causes gas, bloating and discomfort. This may also affect appetite and upper digestive symptoms such as reflux, heartburn or indigestion.
Leaky gut- Leaky gut is a condition that refers to the inflammation and breakdown of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract. Our whole digestive tract is covered in a layer of mucous that is a protective barrier. It is also on the mucous membrane that the gut bacteria live. When this lining becomes irritated or inflamed, a host of symptoms can occur. These can be digestive- bloating, gas, soreness, distention, discomfort or bowel changes are common. Unfortunately this can also lead to other systemic symptoms as the gut lining becomes ‘leaky’ or more permeable, and waste products or poorly digested food remnants can be absorbed into the bloodstream. This can affect liver function, immune balance, inflammatory levels, allergies and mood.
Parasitic infection- This is something else that I check for in many of my patients, as often bowel changes, pains and bloating can be due to a little parasite that finds its way into your digestive system. There are many different types of parasites, and finding the exact type is important as this determines the treatment protocol. While once it was assumed that parasites were something caught overseas while traveling, I am finding more and more cases of persistant parasite infection that is leading to IBS type symptoms. This is more likely to be the case in people who have had a sudden onset of IBS symptoms lasting a few months rather than in someone who has had IBS throughout their life.
Poor diet- A high gluten, high dairy, high processed foods, high sugar diet will all cause digestive symptoms and upsets. A diet low in fruits, vegetables or fibre may also be the cause. A full dietary assessment is always included as part of IBS assessment.
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