What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a digestive disorder characterized by a group of symptoms. IBS will affect about 10% of the world’s population and is a very common disorder. 30-50% of referrals to gastroenterologist are for IBS. There is currently no laboratory test to diagnose IBS and that’s why symptoms are used to diagnosed the condition. What are the most common symptoms associated with IBS? Let’s break it down!
IBS is usually diagnosed after other digestive conditions such as celiacs and IBD have been ruled out. A diagnosis also requires that the symptoms of IBS have been occurring for 6 months and are present at a minimum of 3 days each month. The important thing to remember is that not every IBS case will be the same. There are numerous symptoms of IBS and some individuals may experience all of them and others may experience 2 or 3.
The “Rome Criteria” are used to diagnosed IBS based off a group of established symptoms. Symptoms include abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea, switching back and forth from constipation and diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, flatulence, loss of appetite, indigestion, anxiety, depression, decreased energy, headaches, and poor sleep. Changes in appearance of stools, like texture and/or color is also a common occurrence. Another commonality is that individuals usually feel better after a bowel movement.
The pathophysiology of IBS isn’t 100% clear but lifestyle factors have been linked to this condition. Much of the research on IBS today is focusing on dysbiosis, which is essentially too much unhealthy bacteria and not enough healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Improving this imbalance of bacteria is the first step most individuals should take to help improve symptoms of IBS.
Natural Treatment Options
1. Identifying and eliminating foods that causes the symptoms associated with IBS. Numerous studies show that individuals with IBS improve after removal of a triggering food. Gluten and Dairy are very common intolerances found in individuals with IBS.
2. Many individuals with IBS don’t consume enough fiber. I usually recommend 25 grams of fiber every day. This can be tricky as individuals with IBS usually don’t tolerate high-FODMAP foods. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. They are a collection of short chain carbohydrates which can feed bacteria in the intestinal tract. These carbohydrates need to be avoided for most individuals suffering from IBS. Some low FODMAP fibers include brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and chia seeds.
3. Support the integrity and function of the gastrointestinal tract. Proper functioning of the GI tract is vitally important to help individuals move towards a greater state of health. L-glutamine is a common nutrient given to help repair the digestive tract. Probiotics are also important for proper functioning of the GI tract.
4. I’ve noticed that many individuals with IBS have an abnormal balance of fatty acids. The ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s should be equal at 1 to 1. Many people with IBS have a ratio around 20:1 which can promote inflammation and a sub-optimal environment for the GI tract. A daily fish oil supplement can help even out the ratio.
5. Studies show that stress reduction for individuals with IBS is very important. Exercise, such as yoga, is a great therapy to help reduce your stress level. Many studies show that exercise improves symptoms linked with IBS and can have such a profound effect that it should be used as the first treatment option!
What is IBS?