Do you have IBS & don't know where to start?
What are the signs and symptoms of IBS?
I’ve seen a marked increase in the number of people at the clinic presenting with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms recently. These include: recurrent abdominal pain and cramps, spastic colon, gas, bloating, distention and altered bowel habits (constipation, diarrhoea or alternating) and other abdominal symptoms. Many have already been prodded, poked and scanned by their doctor, had blood tests and been told that everything looks normal so it must be IBS, a functional gastrointestinal disorder and they’ll just have to get used to it.
Not so say I. There is light at the end of the tunnel and lots of recent scientific research giving us some options. Being diagnosed with IBS means that you have digestive symptoms that aren't caused by anything structural and doesn't show anything on a standard blood test your doctor may suggest. However, we now have many tools to help us identify the possible causes and contributing factors. Your gut doesn't get irritable because it's having a bad day! Something is causing the irritation and there are tests to discover what.
Tests are available to identify underlying causes of IBS
It's not always easy to identify which gut problems you might have. Using the right test is key. There are tests available to us to identify if you have a bacterial overgrowth (either SIBO-Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or in the large intestine), a parasite (stool tests are used), leaky gut syndrome (Zonulin or an intestinal permeability test) or food intolerances (blood draw or finger prick test). Often its more than one of these, especially if you've had challenges with your gut for a long time. Tests can also help us distinguish between IBS and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Once leaky gut develops over time food intolerances develop and the longer this is left un-addressed the more food intolerances we tend to develop. They lead to inflammation and the results can be seen anywhere in the body, depending on our genetic weaknesses.
Stress, Anxiety & IBS
Stress, anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome seem to go hand in hand. Studies show that these conditions can happen together but it's unclear which comes first. I see them both feed into each other in a vicious cycle for many people.
Your gut has a brain of its own. It's the enteric nervous system, and it communicates with your actual brain all day long! This signalling between the brain and intestine is known as the gut-brain axis. The very thought of eating can trigger a release from your stomach's acids before you even get that food into your mouth. The connection between these two organs means your gut affects your mood and your mood affects your digestive symptoms.
There are numerous methods to try to reduce the impact of stress on your symptoms:
- Exercise like walking out in nature, swimming, and other physical activities you enjoy.
- Mind-body exercises like meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong.
- Relaxation techniques like breathing exercises.
If necessary we can test your stress hormones to see how much of an impact they're having on your situation.
Is there a cure for IBS?
There is no known cure for IBS, but there are many treatment options to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Finding and addressing the underlying causes as well as implementing lifestyle strategies known to help can make a huge difference.
It's also important to drink plenty of water for constipation predominant IBS. Eating mindfully and chewing your food properly can also help, and if you eat smaller meals it can reduce your symptoms of IBS.
If you are suffering from digestive symptoms like gas, bloating or a change in bowel habit or if you've been suffering with your health for years and suspect what you eat and your gut is playing a big role I can help. We'll identify what's really going on using the right tests and dietary changes and will develop a plan for you to heal.
Don't stay in the dark any longer. If you're looking for help with IBS book in for a Free Stop IBS Strategy Session and I'll listen to what's going on for you and talk through your options.
One or more of these may be contributing to your symptoms.
1. SIBO – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
A research gastroenterologist in the US has shown an association between SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and IBS. Dr Pimental has summarised the data showing that most IBS patients test positive for bacterial overgrowth. Where bacteria commonly found in the large intestine has invaded the usually fairly sterile small intestine, leading to the symptoms of IBS (both diarrhoea and constipation types).
The evidence shows how treatment of the bacterial overgrowth improves IBS and that people that suffer from irritable bowel syndrome can benefit from the new theories and treatment strategies. If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and you’re looking for answers SIBO is one of the possible causes and may be relevant and addressing SIBO can bring relief.
The main test for SIBO is a lactulose breath test. This shows if you are positive for hydrogen or methane SIBO, how severe the overgrowth is and how high up in the small intestine the SIBO is present. This helps us with the SIBO treatment and is one of the main treatments for ibs.
2. FODMAPs could be your answer
FODMAP is an acronym that describes a group of poorly-digested carbohydrates which, for a variety of reasons, may trigger symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhoea in susceptible people. When carbohydrates go undigested in the small intestine, they continue their journey into the colon, where the resident bacteria love to digest them on your behalf. As the bacteria feast—a process called fermentation—they produce gas as a byproduct. Additionally, large amounts of intact, undigested sugars hanging around in the colon tend to attract water, this is what causes diarrhoea. If you have SIBO you also get the fermentation in the small intestine, compounding the symptoms.
The term FODMAP elimination diet (diet for IBS) was coined by scientists at Monash University in Australia, whose pioneering research resulted in an experimental elimination diet that's now being used to help pinpoint specific food-intolerance triggers for which there are no other diagnostic tests. The low-FODMAP diet has thus far shown very promising results in helping alleviate digestive symptoms among people with IBS. Emerging data suggest that upwards of 70 percent of people with IBS may experience symptom relief on a low-FODMAP diet, though larger studies are needed to validate these numbers.
The low-FODMAP diet—and subsequent re-introduction—is not easy to navigate without help. If you think you might benefit from such an approach, contact me for a Free IBS Strategy Session.
If you're comfortable going it alone with the diet but would like meal plans, recipes and other tips and tricks to help you out, find out more about my How to Implement a Low FODMAP Diet Course.
3. Parasites or bacterial Infections
There are many common intestinal parasites or bacterial infections that live in our guts and can affect our physical and mental health. Some examples of these are - giardia, blastocystis hominis, pinworms or threadworms, hookworms, amoebas, cryptosporidium, c. difficile. Parasites release toxins that get into our bloodstream and affect how we feel.
Some common signs and symptoms of parasites are common irritable bowel syndrome symptoms:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Diarrhoea (although sometimes it's constipation)
- Gas and bloating
- Muscle and joint pain
- Skin rashes
- Itching of the anus or vagina
- Iron deficiency anaemia
- Unexplained anxiety
While some parasites don't cause noticeable symptoms, if they are allowed to grow out of control in a unhealthy gut they can make their host sick. A PCR stool test will usually pick these up and then we can treat to get rid of them.
Eating undercooked meat and drinking contaminated water are the most common ways to pick up these infections.
4. Food Intolerance / Food sensitivities
A negative reaction to certain foods like dairy or gluten can sabotage your health by triggering inflammation and causing a host of nasty symptoms like bloating, breakouts, headaches, achy joints. You can reclaim your health by either using food intolerance testing or eliminating the foods that are most likely to cause food intolerance and then re-introduce them in a controlled manner.
This way we’ll identify which foods have been making your symptoms worse so you can stay away from them while your gut heals. You may or may not be able to go back to these foods after a period of time. The elimination diet is my preferred way of working out food sensitivities and is generally considered the gold standard of testing. Avoiding foods you're sensitive to can bring good symptom relief.
This differs from food allergies, measured by an IgE mediated response where antibodies are the cause and usually occur within minutes of ingestion. They usually include hives, vomiting and in more severe cases anaphylaxis.
5. Candida / Yeast Overgrowth
Once we loose the healthy microflora balance in our intestinal tract the bad bugs start to take over. Candida is a yeast that's found naturally in our guts but can proliferate if given too much food i.e. sugars and if there's more bad bugs than good. Motility can also play a role, so how fast or slow your transit time is (i.e. constipation or diarrhoea).
Ideally there's a balance and any treatment plan for the gut needs to take into consideration foods that help the bad bugs proliferate as well as foods that help replace the good ones. Candida die off symptoms are also common if not carefully managed. These include: fatigue, headache, skin breakouts, rashes and itchy skin, increased joint or muscle pain, nausea.
6. Leaky Gut Syndrome / Intestinal Permeability
Whatever the cause of your digestive symptoms its possible you'll have intestinal permeability or a leaky gut. If it's a parasite or bacteria that are the underlying cause of IBS then treating them is necessary. If you now have food intolerances we'll need to identify them and remove them but that's not all. We always need to fix your leaky gut so you don't get these symptoms back again.
Leaky gut has so many contributing factors that need addressing, don't go it alone. I can help guide you through.
One, two or even all of the above may be relevant to you if you suffer from common symptoms of IBS. So, if you’re ready to find some answers book in for your FREE Stop IBS Strategy Session today and I’ll help you identify what you can do to take back control of your gut.
7. IBS and Stress
Being under stress and lack of sleep are unlikely to be the sole causes of our IBS symptoms but they certainly can contribute. The body's natural defence system is weakened when we're constantly stressed or tired, which in turn makes us more susceptible to illness (and gut infections). To help deal with this we can't just look to dietary solutions. Lifestyle factors must also feature in any IBS solution. Having a good sleep routine and ensuring you get sufficient sleep is relevant as is having a good stress management plan.
There are also supplements that can help bring our stress hormone cortisol back into balance. Excess cortisol has been linked to leaky gut syndrome and so needs to be addressed. Sorting this out is key to fixing your IBS symptoms.
If Irritable Bowel Syndrom is affecting your quality of life read more about my Nutrition Packages for Digestive Disorders >>
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