Irritable Bowel Syndrome Causes and Natural Treatment
Irritable Bowel Syndrome aka IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder reported to general practitioners. Up to 20% of people in the WORLD suffer from IBS. While once talk about your digestion and bowel movements was shunned at the dinner table, soon enough it will be a common topic of conversation! I’m being somewhat facetious there, but truthfully talk about digestion, food sensitivities, gluten intolerance, gallbladder removal, etc. is becoming so common that even young children can tell you about organic apples and almond flour bread.
As our food supply becomes more adulterated by the day, new chemicals are created and released into the environment, medication usage by society is at an all-time high and as pesticides are released in absurd quantities, your gut and its sensitive microbiome have an almost insurmountable task of keeping everything balanced.
While only 20 years ago it was the elderly with colon problems, incontinence and excessive flatulence, in today’s day and age digestion is a problem for many as early as their first few months of life.
I believe we are in an era of digestive disorders that is not going away any time soon, the primary diagnosis being discussed is Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.
Diagnosing and Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome
One of the hardest parts about diagnosing IBS is that it is a diagnosis of exclusion. It is more of a syndrome or collection of symptoms rather than a specific condition. Essentially if you have ruled out other major diseases like Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, parasitic infection, gall bladder disease, pancreatitis, etc., then you may end up with a generic diagnosis of IBS.
Medications for IBS
The traditional approach to managing IBS symptoms is to use a medication to address the primary symptom. For example:
IBS C – Might be treated with either a prescription or an OTC laxative.
IBS D – Might be treated with something to slow gut motility such as rifaximin.
IBS + Pain – Is often treated with a pain killer or an SSRI medication.
Unfortunately, most of these medications can come with side effects and don’t offer a cause as to why may have developed IBS in the first place. If you are interested in the WHY, then you need to search for answers.
Getting To the Root of IBS
When you are looking for root causes of IBS, the first question to ask is have you been experiencing this for a long period of time or has it only been a short while with an intense discomfort. This will help you to know where to look first.
If you have “always” had mild indigestion and are more prone to constipation, then my first thought is always a food sensitivity. For example if you can remember having stomach pain regularly as a 10 year old, then you likely have always had some type of food intolerance.
If your digestion was perfectly normal until you turned 30, 40 or 50 and your IBS hit you out of the blue, then it is more common that I find stealth infection is at the root cause of an individual’s IBS.
While food sensitivities and stealth infection are the top root causes for IBS, there can be other root causes like neurotransmitter imbalances due to medications or gallbladder dysfunction or brush border enzyme deficiency, etc., so it can get much more complicated, but the initial two major causes of IBS need to be evaluated before moving forward.
Currently I only use 2 types of food sensitivity testing in my office. The first is an elimination diet. Essentially the starting point is a plant-based Paleo diet plus butter and white rice. During your elimination diet it is critical to treat for dysbiosis, leaky gut, etc. to restore the gut lining prior to reintroduction of any food.
Once the proper antimicrobials have been used to treat infection then re-introduction of foods can be accomplished 1 at a time. I don’t have an article on elimination diets currently but looking into the proper way to reintroduce foods after an elimination diet is very important.
The second way we test for food allergies is via the A.S.K. (Anderson Specific Kinesiology) protocol which helps us to identify food sensitivities inside of a typical office visit. This technique utilizes a specialized form of manual muscle testing in order to identify root causes commonly found in chronic conditions like IBS. Once the food sensitivity or sensitivities are determined, then a diet can be designed around the patients individual condition.
To get straight to the controversial fun, I don’t utilize any blood testing, skin prick tests or saliva tests to identify food sensitivities. Any doctor that pays close attention to lab allergy & sensitivity testing vs. patient progress reports should at a minimum note that there is dissonance between the two. Or in other words, food sensitivity panels often come back with way too many food sensitivities or they incorrectly identify food sensitivities. In scientific talk, we may call these either false positives or false negatives. One day I hope that lab testing is more accurate in the field of food sensitivity testing, but at the current time of writing this article, I would suggest based upon clinical experience that it is not the most beneficial test in the majority of chronic IBS cases.
Stealth Infection & IBS
Everyday public awareness of stealth infection is increasing. 20 years ago, you may have never heard of Lyme’s disease or Epstein Barr Virus (aka mononucleosis), but chances are you know somebody that is suffering from one of these previously rare forms of stealth infections already. The digestive tract and its microbiome (the critters inside the gut) are difficult to protect and control.
I define a stealth infection as an infection that exists though its symptoms are not the typical symptoms such as heat, pain, redness or swelling. Instead, your symptoms might be fatigue, brain fog, low back pain, anger or migraine headaches.
I would suggest that the most common location to have an infection or imbalance of flora (bacteria, parasites, viruses or fungi) that goes unnoticed is the digestive tract. These low-grade “smoldering” infections can be found almost anywhere from blood vessels to other major organs.
As far as conventional medicine and searching for stealth infections, it can vary significantly. Some doctors will run an h. pylori test and if that comes back as clear, then they say you have no infection. On the other extreme end, you may find someone runs an actual stool test, though those often come back negative also.
In my office the most common sign of stealth infection isn’t that stealth at all. Many people come in to the office with lab tests that show their WBCs are out of the normal range. Whether elevated or depressed, WBC values outside of the normal range indicates a burden of the immune system.
Some of the most common white blood cell markers to be abnormal are neutrophil, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils and basophils. In conventional medicine, white blood cells are often used to determine if infection is present, but if lab values are slightly outside of the normal range, many doctors overlook the abnormal findings as clinically insignificant. While a slightly out of normal lab value may not kill you today, it can absolutely be a sign of a “smoldering” infection. This is especially true if you have multiple labs that show any abnormal results for more than a single lab draw. (A pattern of abnormal lab results.)
If you have any abnormal lab results and you aren’t taking actions to normalize them by looking for their cause, then you should start there.
IBS-C & Chronic Constipation
“IBS‑C is defined as belly pain (abdominal pain) associated with constipation. The symptoms of IBS‑C are defined as long-lasting and keep coming back. Those suffering from IBS‑C also have hard or lumpy stools at least 25% of the time, and loose or watery stools less than 25% of the time.”
In Irritable Bowel Syndrome with constipation, the initial goal of treatment should be to arrive at a single bowel movement per day. If you are someone who has “never” had daily bowel movements, then this may come as a surprise. While 2-3 bowel movements per day may be optimal, getting to a single bowel movement a day without stimulants, laxatives, medications, etc. is a huge stepping stone for many patients and seems to be able to be accomplished in most cases. In the thousands of cases of digestive issues that I have seen, most cases of IBS-C have to do with three main causes. They include stealth infection, food sensitivities and low gallbladder function. Any one of these three can cause IBS-C, though often it is a combination with food sensitivities being the most common cause of life-long constipation.
Other causes of IBS-C include electrolyte depletion, low thyroid function, imbalanced hormones, low serotonin and intestinal obstruction. While intestinal obstruction is less common, if you have diligently tried natural treatment for IBS-D previously and failed, or your symptoms get suddenly worse, then obstruction should be ruled out by a GI doctor via colonoscopy and possibly endoscopy to rule out any obstruction.
The most common IBS-C supplements I see patients using are cascara sagrada, senna, coffee (or energy drinks) and magnesium. Many times if IBS-C continues for a prolonged period of time, then patients get accustomed to using natural laxatives in order to have a bowel movement. Long-term use of aggressive natural herbs like senna is not recommended. Magnesium citrate is probably the safest and most effective supplement for daily support, but even with magnesium, your goal should be to get your body and intestines functioning by themselves again.
IBS-D & Loose Stools
IBS-D or Irritable Bowel Syndrome with diarrhea is very common and has most of the same root causes as IBS-C or general IBS. With IBS-D it is often common to see a gallbladder or bile acid diarrhea problem that is comingled in your presentation. IBS-D in general comes from irritation of the intestinal tract due to toxin overload or food sensitivities that create high levels of inflammation. When food comes in contact with the intestinal lining, it is either unable to absorb or is too inflamed to tolerate and thus the food passes through the digestive tract much quicker than it should. Patients with IBS-D often witness whole food particles in their stools.
While IBS-C appears to most often stem from food sensitivities, IBS-D in contrast often presents as having an undetected viral infection or candida overgrowth. SIBO and SIFO cases often result in loose stool also.
For more information on green stools and bile acid diarrhea, read my article here.
For more information SIFO and IBS, read my article here.
The Hidden Hormones of IBS
I believe it is important to note that excess hormones create a burden on the liver and gallbladder and can result in increased inflammation of the digestive tract. It is very common for a patient to be on hormone replacement therapy and thus suffer from digestive problems. High levels of estrogen specifically can lead to higher levels of histamine in the body and thus more inflammation. For more info on allergies, estrogen and histamine, read my article here.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is abundant in the digestive tract. When the digestive tract becomes inflamed, serotonin production decreases and thus systemic serotonin is lower. When serotonin is lower in the digestive tract, moods can be altered. Because melatonin supplementation can mildly increase serotonin levels, melatonin can be supplemented at times to calm an angry digestive tract in doses of 0.5 or 1 mg per day for 2 to 3 weeks. Once the digestive tract is restored to its proper function and the root causes are addressed, then the melatonin should be stopped.
If you haven’t started talking about your digestion and your stool with your friends, you should start! Many people are suffering just like you and while medications are the standard in conventional medicine, discovering your root cause can be life changing and provide relief in more ways than one.
If you look at the root causes I mentioned above and take positive action towards discovering what is triggering your IBS, hopefully you too like my patients can experience relief from daily IBS symptoms.
If you need a top rated IBS in Gilbert or Scottsdale, please don’t hesitate to schedule your free conslutation.