5 things to look into to finally tackle your IBS

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IBS, also called Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a very common condition, and I see many patients coming into my office to seek help for this often debilitating issue. Often people have seen many different doctors and specialists, to no avail. This is due to the fact that IBS can be difficult to pinpoint, and contrary to its 'big brother' IBD- Inflammatory Bowel Disorder, which includes Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis, no inflammation or 'changes' can be seen in the gut upon conventional examination, often leading to the diagnosis that it is 'stress related' and 'all in the head', leading the suffering person at a loss of what to do. Luckily research has come a long way in the last years, revealing some of its underlying triggers and how to address it.

What You'll Need

  • Bitter foods.
  • Good fats, protein and digestive herbs.
  • Meditation, mindfulness and belly breathing.

What You'll Do

  • Cut down on carbs and sugars. IBS often gets triggered by an imbalance in your gut microbiome, such as an overgrowth of 'bad bugs' like yeast ('candida'), harmful bacteria and parasites, and not enough of the 'good guys' (think bifidos, lactobacillus and the stuff you are trying to increase by taking probiotics). This can be due to a range of reasons, one of the most common being antibiotics use which wipe out the good and bad guys first, with the bad guys usually winning the race of repopulating your gut and taking over. Now you may have tried 'everything', including going vegan and plant-based, but symptoms have only gotten worse? The bad guys in your gut LOVE sugar, and everything that turns into sugar, including healthy, glutenfree carbs and sugars like quinoa, legumes, chia, oats, honey and fruit. You may need to cut down your sugar intake temporarily, in extreme cases even lowering any fiber intake including the super healthy low starch vegetables until balance is restored.
  • Cut out common trigger foods like gluten and dairy for a little while, or better even check your blood for food intolerances. Often overlooked, people can develop food intolerances to even healthy foods like eggs and avocados for various reasons that could fill a book themselves. Regardless of why they developed, once they are present, every time you consume it, you trigger an immune system response that can lead to belly aches and clogging of your bile flow, which further impedes your gut's healthy microbiome balance and the problems discussed in step 1. Ask your practitioner for an IgG test as compared to the standard IgE allergy test, which looks for an entirely different reaction.
  • Support a healthy liver and bile function. When everything is in balance, the liver produces bile that flows into your small intestines to kill off the 'bad guys' (see step 1), break down fats and support overall gut health. If the liver is burdened one way or another, your bile may end up sluggish and sticky, unable to properly perform its job. To support your liver and bile, make sure to incorporate bitter foods like small amounts of artichokes, dandelion, lemon with peel, milk thistle, coffee, chicory and choline rich foods such as eggs. Note however that these can, in severe cases of IBS, trigger symptoms due to their high fiber content and potential food intolerance risk, so it may have to included gradually and adjusted to your symptoms.
  • Increase your intake of natural gut balancing herbs like oregano, rosemary, cilantro, mint and aloe. Each has distinct properties, but they all have their digestion improving yet calming effect in common.
  • Take charge of your stress. And lastly, yes, IBS has a big stress related component, and even has to do with how 'your head' and how you handle every day stressors and emotions. However maybe not the way you thought. Being stressed and/ or anxious shifts from your rest-and-digest nervous system to the fight-or-flight system, which is necessary to run away from a tiger. However, it shunts circulation away from your digestive tract, leading to a reduced immune system function (which can be tested as sIgA on a comprehensive stool test) and with it increased vulnerability to the in step 1 discussed gut microbiome imbalance, and further to reduced production of digestive juices, enzymes and overall gut cell health. Simple tools like taking 3 deep breaths into the belly have been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, one of the major nerves of the rest-and-digest system, and to calm down the stress response. Meditation is another wonderful too, as is mindfulness and many other techniques. Choose what works best for you.

Tips & Warnings

  • Though you may feel like IBS is taking over your life, it doesn't have to. If above steps don't quite cut it yet, you may want to consider finding a Functional Medicine Practitioner experienced in IBS that can guide you through the correct tests, how to interpret them, and target your specific imbalances to restore health.
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