Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a complex health problem that baffles patients and healthcare providers alike. The most common of all gastrointestinal problems, IBS is far more prevalent among women, and generally occurs between the ages of 25 - 45. ‘IBS’ is more of an umbrella term that describes a set of symptoms rather than an explanation of what’s causing the problem, and this makes it difficult to treat. There is no single known cause and conventional treatments tend to focus on symptom relief.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and unfortunately for sufferers, often interfere with normal daily life. For those with IBS, everyday activities such as dining out can become a daunting prospect, as anxiety over how the body will react builds. Many IBS sufferers have symptom ‘flare-ups’, which settle down again, and so the cycle continues.
As with many complex health problems, a functional medicine approach can be an incredibly effective way of dealing with IBS.
A functional medicine approach to any health problem involves digging deep to get to the root cause, and dealing with the problem at this foundation level so that improvements last for good. Functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just a set of symptoms. In contrast, conventional treatment options for IBS often focus on symptom relief which will only bring temporary benefit.
The takeaway message is that you don’t need to ‘just live with’ unwanted symptoms of IBS. Read on if you’re ready to take action to improve your gut health for good. Use this simple guide to IBS as an ideal starting point to help you on the path to improved gut function.
In this simple guide you will find information on:
• IBS - Common symptoms
• IBS - Possible underlying causes
• IBS - Possible triggers
• IBS - A simple 5R plan to restore optimal gut function
• IBS - Natural symptom relief
IBS Common symptoms:
• Recurrent abdominal pain and cramping (often relieved following a bowel movement)
• Change in bowel habits (diarrhoea / constipation or both)
• Excessive wind
• Urgent need to go to the toilet
• Lack of energy
IBS - Possible underlying causes:
• Food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity (e.g. wheat, gluten, dairy, lactose, fructose)
• Poor eating patterns
• Intensive/endurance exercise
• Intestinal infection (viral, bacteria / yeast / parasite)
• Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
• Imbalanced gut flora
• Nutrient deficiencies
• Low digestive enzymes or stomach acid
• SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) is now recognised as a significant possible underlying cause of IBS in 50-85% of cases
IBS - Possible triggers:
• Poor eating habits (eating on the run, whilst distracted, in a rush, in a state of stress)
• Food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity
• Drinking large volumes of liquid with meals
• Ice cold liquids
• Fatty foods
• Tea & coffee
• Spicy foods
• Citrus fruits
• Raw fruits & vegetables in high quantities
• High FODMAP foods
IBS – Simple 5R Plan:
You can take the first steps to restoring normal gut function with this simple 5R plan.
Step 1: Remove
Since gut infections can be a common underlying cause of IBS, the first step of the 5R plan involves removing potentially harmful micro-organisms which may be residing in the gut and causing adverse symptoms. A natural herbal anti-microbial formula providing caprylic acid, grapefruit seed extract, berberine, garlic and oregano is a useful starting point to support the remove stage. Remove can also refer to stripping the diet back to wholesome basics by eliminating foods and drinks which can commonly be problematic for the gut (wheat, gluten, dairy, refined sugars, processed foods, spicy foods, tea, coffee, alcohol etc). A simple nourishing diet which focuses on whole, unprocessed foods and removes common dietary triggers for a defined period allows the gut time to heal and restore optimal function. It is useful to keep a daily food diary and note down any reactions once you start to reintroduce these foods and drinks again.
(NB: You may find it useful to work with a qualified healthcare practitioner when following an elimination / re-introduction diet to ensure that you aren’t missing out on any major food groups / nutrients during the process.)
Step 2: Replace
The gut produces important digestive secretions including enzymes and stomach acid which help to break down food so individual nutrients can be absorbed. Sometimes the body doesn’t produce enough of these factors which can hamper the digestive process and set off a vicious cycle. Supporting the body with a supplement of gentle broad-spectrum enzymes before each meal is a simple way to help the process of digestion to happen more effectively.
(A healthcare practitioner can help to evaluate whether stomach acid levels may be low, and how you can address this, as well as advising on diet and lifestyle strategies to further support essential digestive processes in the long term.)
Step 3: Re-inoculate
Research now shows that a healthy, diverse gut microbiome is at the cornerstone, not only of good gut health, but of optimal health overall. The third step, re-inoculate, therefore is all about nourishing this immensely important intestinal population of microbes. Dietary changes such as increasing variety of foods to feed beneficial bacteria (aim for 20 – 40 different types of fruits and vegetables each week and slowly introduce into your diet, a daily serving of fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut & kimchi which can help to support your beneficial bacteria). You can also supplement your diet with a range of live bacteria that have been shown to be supportive to health such as Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM®, Lactobacillus paracasei lpc-37, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-04, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 & Saccharomyces boulardii.
Step 4: Repair
Often, when digestive factors are low and infectious micro-organisms and/or problematic foods are present in the diet, the gut wall can become damaged. This is often referred to as a ‘leaky gut’. The fourth step therefore focuses on providing key nutrients to repair the gut wall. Important gut-repair nutrients include the amino acid L-glutamine and the trace mineral zinc. In addition, antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins B2, C, E, manganese, alpha lipoic acid and green tea extract help to protect the gut wall from further damage.
Step 5: Retain
The fifth and crucial step involves now making an assessment of what needs to be done to retain your new level of gut health. This involves slowly re-introducing potentially problematic foods and drinks one at a time to evaluate how the body responds. Some foods may need to be avoided for longer; whilst others can be seamlessly re-introduced. Supplementing with a maintenance level of L-glutamine and zinc alongside easy to absorb vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and live bacteria is a great way to retain this newly improved gut health.
IBS – Symptom Relief
Tiredness, fatigue and high levels of oxidative stress often accompany the more characteristic symptoms of IBS. So in addition to targeted gastrointestinal support, a comprehensive range of essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to enhance cellular energy, normalise metabolic function and increase antioxidant intake are strongly recommended.
Ongoing, natural support to help manage symptoms is an essential part of any treatment strategy for IBS sufferers.
Struggling with IBS? The route back to optimal health starts here!
If you’re struggling with IBS symptoms and unsure which way to turn, the simple 5R plan is the ideal place to start. You don’t need to ‘just live with’ IBS symptoms, you can take the first steps back to optimal health right away. More than just symptom relief, the simple 5R plan helps you to target some of the most common underlying causes of IBS. Remember that good health starts in the gut; if you’re suffering from unwanted symptoms, now is the best time to take the first steps back towards optimal health, for good.