Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a broad diagnosis given by gastrointestinal doctors that cover a multitude of symptoms including — but not limited to — chronic constipation, diarrhea and bloating. Often, this diagnosis is issued when there is not a specific cause for the symptoms the patient is experiencing.
However, functional medicine practitioners aim to get to the root cause of the patient's symptoms — the thinking being, there is always a reason why symptoms of IBS occur.
Some of these root causes include:
Candida is a yeast that lives in our gastrointestinal tracts — it doesn’t harm us, but it doesn’t necessarily benefit us either. However, problems occur when candida levels get out of control. This can happen due to dysbiosis in the gut (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria). Some common symptoms are bloating, sugar/carbohydrate cravings and a white coating on your tongue.
Studies have shown that roughly 60 percent of all IBS sufferers have SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Ideally, the small intestine is a sterile environment. When SIBO occurs, food can actually ferment in the small intestine, causing a bacterial overgrowth. This occurs for a number of reasons including stress, low stomach acid and slow motility (the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract aren’t pushing food through the system as quickly as it should be).
RELATED: All About SIBO and SIFO
There is a common misconception that you have to travel abroad to a developing country to get a parasite — not true! You can pick up a parasite domestically in fruits, vegetables and meats. Poor hygienic practices in agriculture or when packing, transporting or storing fruits and vegetables can increase the risk of becoming contaminated with parasites. You can also get a parasite from contaminated drinking water or recreational water.
Low Stomach Acid
When we do not have enough stomach acid to digest our food, we can experience an uncomfortable “full” feeling and bloating.
Environmental Toxin Overload
Toxins, like pesticides, dyes, phthalates and pollutants, are all around us in today's world — in the water we drink, the air we breathe, our personal-care products and our food supply. Our bodies are designed to filter out toxins; however, if our systems become overloaded with toxins, our filtration systems (such as the liver and kidneys) need some extra support. If we are taking in more toxins than we are filtering out, symptoms such as constipation and chronic fatigue can occur.
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How to Alleviate IBS Symptoms
The most important thing to know: You do not have to live with uncomfortable symptoms — IBS can be cured.
1 Manage Stress
Taking a few deep breaths before your meals and really focusing on your food can help your body get into rest and digest mode, which can help stimulate stomach acid, increase absorption of nutrients and decrease bloating.
2 Clean Up Your Diet
Focus on whole, nutrient dense foods and limit processed carbohydrates and refined sugars as they can contribute to the imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut.
3 Decrease Toxin Exposure
Because we come in contact with toxins daily, it’s important to avoid or decrease exposure wherever possible to help ease the toxic burden on your system. The best way to do that is to avoid known endocrine disruptors, like parabens, pesticides and BPAs found in plastic. Shop organic produce, especially when it comes to the worst pesticide offenders (aka the “Dirty Dozen”). Swap plastic water bottles for glass — or even better, use a reusable stainless steel or glass water bottle to keep plastics out of the landfill.
As you run out of conventional cleaning or personal care products, switch them out for non-toxic options. For example, when you run out of your laundry detergent, switch to safer options. A great way to determine what products are safe is to use apps such as Think Dirty or EWG’s Healthy Living App.
4 Work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner
Finding the individualized support you need is essential in treating IBS and other gut-related issues. Rather than seeking temporary solutions, a functional medicine practitioner can help you not only find the root cause of IBS, but create a personalized holistic treatment plan that is right for you and your lifestyle.
While the low FODMAP diet is commonly used in an IBS or SIBO diagnosis, it is important to note that this does not cure IBS or SIBO, rather, it is used as a short term diet to decrease symptoms while the underlying cause is treated. A low FODMAP diet does not work for everyone as food sensitivities are different from person to person.