You might think that your digestion is just fine, but according to the statistics, there's a good chance it's not. There are many digestive disorders to discuss but today, we're talking about one of the more well known: IBS, because it affects on average, 1 in every 5 of you. So if you understand the woes of pain and gas after eating, not having the joys of a glorious "rock-star" bowel movement in days or even weeks, or you've pooped your pants at some point, read on...we'll get down and dirty with the infamous Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, typically referred to as IBS, affects nearly 20% of Americans today (60 million people!). It is defined by frequent abdominal pain or discomfort, irregular bowel habits including diarrhea and constipation, and gas. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be caused by numerous factors including allergies, free radicals, low fiber diet, nutrient deficiencies, drugs (over the counter and prescription included) and alcohol, and the big one: STRESS. It has been linked to leaky gut syndrome (LGS), ulcerative colitis, and crohn’s disease (Axe). This “modern” condition is costing us $8 billion annually in medical which doesn't appear to be working (Wald, 2001).
Common symptoms include: small pellet-like bowel movements, mucus in stool, constipation, stomach pain, diarrhea (often in the AM), alternating between constipation and diarrhea (most common), bloating, increased sensitivity to pain, heartburn, nausea, and incontinence.
This syndrome can be challenging for those that deal with it, not only because of the uncomfortable, often times embarrassing symptoms, but because it’s often diagnosed in the medical community as psychosomatic. This can leave patients feeling hopeless and often a little crazy. Believe me, you're not! You can do a lot to treat yourself. Most often, the medical community will offer metamucil and prescribe sedatives, anti-spasm drugs, or antidepressants. These prescription medications may make your “psychosomatic” issues lessen, but can ultimately make the condition in your tummy worse (Hyman, 2013). This isn't a fault of the medical doctors. It's typically the only way they know to deal with the problem and they do their best to alleviate the symptoms. As the public, we need to take responsibility for our health and stop looking in the wrong direction for the quick fix.
Many gastrointestinal disorders can be attributed to the nervous system which leads to poor communication between the brain, and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (Mullin, 2010). This disruption will affect motility and sensation of pain through serotonin levels. 90% of serotonin receptors are in the gut and they control movement through the GI tract, regulate pain, and decrease depression levels (Murphree, 2007). In IBS, serotonin levels are often affected (Camilleri, 2009). It's no wonder that IBS sufferers often feel anxious and depressed.
Other common symptoms include stress, genetics, infection, compromised gut lining (this is where your immune system lives!), dysbiosis (imbalanced gut microbes), diet, hormonal imbalance, and inflammation (Bullas et al., 2010; Mullin, 2010; Weis, 2007). Stress is a large factor for many of those suffering from IBS. Stress comes in the form of food sensitivities, emotional stress, physical stress including illness, surgery, and pain, environmental toxins, and infections. The bad news is, there are many ways to develop IBS which is the reason so many suffer from it. The good news is, we have the power to heal IBS ourselves and it is possible to do all through diet and lifestyle changes.
When treating IBS, diet is an important component which we will address below. Also, it is essential to look at potential life stressors that may have caused the condition. This is why anti-depressants are so often prescribed for IBS in the western medicine field (Mercola, 2009).
First off, pay attention to the quality of your food. Is the source whole? Or was it found in a box? Is it organic or conventional. Ideally, all of your food would come from whole food sources without the addition of pesticides, chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, etc.
It’s important to find out what foods best suit you. As mentioned above, stress caused by food sensitivities and/or allergies are a culprit in IBS. A particular type of food that serves one person, might be one to avoid for others. To find out what foods work best for you, a good place to start is an elimination diet. For at least 3 weeks, remove all potential allergens including dairy, grains, nuts and seeds, sugar, eggs, soy, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, and nightshade vegetables. After following this protocol for 21 days, great improvement might be seen. Add the removed foods back in one at a time (one every 2 days). It is most advisable to go through this process with a nutritionist or health care practitioner for greatest success.
Dietary advice that tends to work well universally for IBS patients include eating small meals, eating low insoluble fiber, and eating a hypoallergenic diet. Some foods that are widely accepted as nourishing and healing during this time include:
Healthy fats: olive oil, nuts & seeds
Organic grass-fed or pastured animal proteins: beef, chicken, eggs, cold-water fish
Low Insoluble fiber veggies: all squash varieties, potatoes, spinach, green beans, olives, parsnip
Herbs: ginger, basil, coriander, lemongrass, mint, oregano, parsley.
Foods to avoid can be a long and confusing list while treating IBS. Keep it simple, eat whole foods (unprocessed) and minimize or avoid these foods they may cause disturbance:
Fats: hydrogenated fats
Vegetables: alliums (onions, garlic, leeks...), brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage), artichoke
Legumes: chickpeas, soy beans, kidney beans, lentils
Dairy: all except ghee
Sweeteners: Honey, agave, HFCS, any sugar alcohols
THE FINAL SPREAD
IBS is a debilitating condition that’s considered “functional”. I don’t believe those that suffer with it would say the same. The encouraging bit is that you have the power to heal. It’s a condition that we have largely brought on ourselves and figuring out the best way to treat it is a great step towards optimal health. Without a healthy gut, you won't absorb nutrients, and bodily functions will not proceed in the way they were meant to. Your best bet: REMOVE the culprits, be it food, environment, or stressors; HEAL the gut with good foods and supplements, REPOPULATE your good bacteria with diet, supplements, and stress management; and perhaps most importantly, RELAX. You could be feeling better starting...immediately.
DrAxe.com. (2014, July). 4 Steps to Heal Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease. Retrieved from: http://draxe.com/4-steps-to-heal-leaky-gut-and-autoimmune-disease/.
DrAxe.com. The IBS Diet and Food Cures. Retrieved from: http://draxe.com/ibs-diet-food-cures/.
Hyman, M. M.D. (2013, May 17). 5 Simple Steps to Cure IBS Without Drugs. Retrieved from: http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/09/16/5-simple-steps-to-cure-ibs-without-drugs/#close
Mercola, M.D. Mercola.com. (2004, Jan 3). The Incredible Health Benefits to You of Traditionally Fermented Foods. Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2004/01/03/fermented-foods-part-two.aspx
Mercola, M.D. Mercola.com. (2009, May 9). Natural Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Retrieved from: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/05/09/natural-remedies-for-irritable-bowel-syndrome.aspx
Wald, A. (2001, Mar 16). Overview of irritable bowel syndrome. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/00/slides/3627s1_2_wald/sld001.htm
Wood, R. (2010). The new whole foods encyclopedia. New York, NY: Penguin Books