I found an excellent article by Dr. Hyman, MD this week that highlights 5 simple steps to eliminate IBS without drugs. We commonly use these steps in our practice, which are aimed at identifying and addressing the underlying cause for IBS. Most patients are prescribed antidepressants, sedatives, anti-spasm drugs, Metamucil or other fiber sources, and not given real answers, or real results. IBS effects 20% of the population. So what exactly is it and how can we eliminate it once and for all?
According to womenshealth.gov, “IBS is defined as abdominal pain or discomfort, along with a changed bowel habit (such as diarrhea or constipation), for 3 months or more. The abdomen is the same as the “stomach area.” The symptoms may be different from person to person and can include:
- Cramps or pain in the stomach area
- Constipation — infrequent stools that may be hard and dry
- Feeling like you haven’t finished a bowel movement
- Diarrhea — frequent loose stools
- Alternating between diarrhea and constipation
- Mucus in the stool
- Swollen or bloated stomach area
- Discomfort in the upper stomach area or feeling uncomfortably full or nauseous after eating a normal size meal
Do these sound common? I hear one or more of these symptoms in nearly every patient we see! Since all systems rely on digestion, any imbalance within, can create and fuel much bigger problems down the line. In fact, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), say that IBS can be linked to:
- GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Dyspepsia (Indigestion) causing discomfort or pain after eating, accompanied by fullness, bloating, nausea or other GI symptoms
- Chronic fatigue syndrome—a disorder that causes extreme fatigue, which is tiredness that lasts a long time and limits a person’s ability to do ordinary daily activities
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Temporomandibular joint disorders—problems or symptoms of the chewing muscles and joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull
- Somatoform disorders—chronic pain or other symptoms with no physical cause that are thought to be due to psychological problems
Great! So we know it’s a problem, and perhaps a much bigger one that we thought. What do we do about it? The first step lies in identifying the underlying causes. The two most common are:
- Food Allergies
- Hidden Infection
- Autoimmune Issues
Other causes may include:
- Lack of enzymes
- Past head injuries/concussions
- Zinc or magnesium deficiency
- Heavy metal toxicity
- And more…
Dr. Hyman, MD explains the mechanism well in the section of his article titled “How Gut Imbalances Can Lead to IBS”:
Imagine a tennis court. That is the surface area of your small intestine, where food is absorbed. Your small intestine is also the site of about 60 percent of your immune system. And this sophisticated gut-immune system is just one-cell layer away from a toxic sewer — all of the bacteria and undigested food particles in your gut.
If that lining breaks down — from stress, too many antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or Advil, steroids, intestinal infections, a low-fiber, high-sugar diet, alcohol, and more – your immune system will be exposed to foreign particles from food and bacteria and other microbes. This will trigger and activate immune response, allergy, and will irritate your second brain (the enteric nervous system) creating havoc that leads to an irritable bowel, an irritable brain, and other system wide problems including allergy, arthritis, autoimmunity, mood disorders, and more.
The microbial ecosystem in the gut must be healthy for you to be healthy. When your gut bacteria are out of balance — when you have too many pathogenic bacteria and not enough healthy bacteria — it makes you sick. You’ve got about 3 pounds of bacteria — 500 species — in your gut. In fact, there is more bacterial DNA in your body than there is human DNA! Among all that gut bacteria, there are good guys, bad guys, and VERY bad guys.
If the bad guys take over — or if they move into areas that they shouldn’t (like the small intestine which is normally sterile) — they can start fermenting the food you digest, particularly sugar or starchy foods. This is called small bowel bacterial overgrowth, and it’s a major cause of IBS. The major symptom it causes is bloating, or a feeling of fullness after meals. What causes this bloating? The overproduction of gas by the bacteria as they have lunch on your lunch! Small bowel bacterial overgrowth can be diagnosed by a breath test, which measures gas production by the bacteria, or by a urine test that measures the byproducts of the bacteria after they are absorbed into your system.
Bacterial overgrowth is a real syndrome and was recently described in a review paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.(i) The condition can be treated. In fact, a major paper was recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed using a non-absorbed antibiotic called rifaximin for 10 days resulted in a dramatic improvement in bloating and overall symptoms of IBS by clearing out the overgrowth of bacteria.(ii) This medication is now under FDA review for approval as a new treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.
That’s great news for many IBS patients. But, unfortunately, not all patients with the same diagnosis are created equal. There’s more than one factor that leads to IBS. Another major cause of IBS is food sensitivities. Not true allergies, but low-grade reactions to foods that drive so many chronic symptoms including IBS.
A landmark paper, was recently published in the prestigious British medical journal Gut that found eliminating foods identified through delayed food allergy testing (IgG antibodies) resulted in dramatic improvements in IBS symptoms.(iii) Another article, an editorial in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, stated clearly that we must respect and recognize the role of food allergies and inflammation in IBS.(iv)
So the research tells us that these are the two main causes of irritable bowel — food allergies and overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine — but there may be others, including a lack of digestive enzymes, parasites living in the gut, zinc or magnesium deficiency, heavy metal toxicity, and more. And this is precisely why it is so critically important to personalize treatment based on the unique circumstances that exist for each person who suffers from IBS — the solution is most certainly not one-size-fits-all. But solutions can be found if we look carefully at the underlying causes and treat them.
Dr. Hyman’s 5 Simple Steps, include:
- Get tested. Here at The Healing Center, we utilize comprehensive testing and cutting-edge techniques to identify food sensitivities. We implement a comprehensive gut-repair program designed individually to address our patient’s concerns. We’ve seen dramatic results from this methodology and assist our patients in eliminating IBS once and for all.
- Test yourself. We assist our patients through a simple elimination diet, aimed at identifying many food sensitivities. Our patients eliminate the most common food allergens for 12 weeks — that’s dairy, gluten, yeast, eggs, corn, soy, nightshades, and peanuts – and then reintroduce them to see if they cause symptoms. This is an effective way to isolate the foods that may be causing problems.
- Get rid of the unwanted visitors in your small bowel. We identify or rule out hidden infection, and create individualized protocols based on our patient’s physiology and results. Our custom infection-elimination-support protocols are effective, because they address the unique underlying causes that different individuals present with. Some of our supportive options include medications, herbs, minerals, ultra-sound and radio-frequency technology, allergy clearings, and more.
- 4. Repopulate your digestive tract with good bacteria. Once you eliminate the bad guys, you must repopulate the good guys. We do this with several different probiotic strains chosen for our patients unique needs, which helps to normalize gut function and protect from re-curing infection.
- Try digestive [support], enzymes, HCl (stomach acid aid), or gall-bladder liver support, which help to help break down food while your gut heals. At the healing center we identify additional digestive support that is needed and customize our protocols to meet this need. You also may benefit from nutrients that help heal the lining of the gut including fish oil, GLA (from evening primrose oil, zinc, vitamin A, glutamine, licorice root, marshmallow root, alovera, L-glutamine, and others.
Wishing you the best of health!
Michal Cooling, CNTP &
The Healing Center Team