I have helped countless people with digestive disorders improve and resolve their symptoms. Many of these patients came to me after years of seeing various specialists, having expensive tests done, and trying all types of medications, to finally be diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. IBS is considered a “diagnosis of exclusion”, meaning that once all known causes for gastrointestinal distress are ruled out, such as inflammation, infection, or cancer, you get awarded with it. Since there is no official cause for IBS identified in the conventional medical world, people with IBS are generally treated with palliative medications to suppress their symptoms.
The medications used for IBS rarely resolve people’s symptoms, and tend to come with undesirable side effects and/or long-term health risks. This is truly a shame, because the millions of people with IBS generally suffer daily from bothersome symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, urgency, or incomplete evacuation of stool. According to the International Foundation of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. Even if you don’t have the official IBS diagnosis, if you frequently suffer from these types of symptoms, I recommend that you read on.
The great news is that there are many things beyond these futile prescription medications that we can do to help people with IBS. At PrimeHealth, we search for root cause of symptoms so that we can address them appropriately and as naturally as possible. We do not avoid medication just for the sake of it. In fact, we embrace the use of medications when they are more helpful than harmful. However, the beautiful truth is that when you remove the issues that are distressing the body, and give the body what it needs to heal, it is possible to reach a balance without the use of long-term medications.
I worked with a patient named John who had been suffering from bloating and acid reflux for a couple of years. He had been to various specialists and had many tests done, and was simply told he had IBS and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and had to take an acid-blocking medication, which didn’t help his symptoms. After 2 months of taking gut healing supplements and changing his diet, his symptoms had resolved.
IBS symptoms are an extremely important clue as to what is going on with the rest of the body. The gastrointestinal tract governs how the rest of our body functions, including the mind and brain, immune system, hormones, nerves, muscles, bones, etc. The main reason for this is that the digestive tract is the largest surface area in which we interact with our external environment. The one-cell-layer-thick lining of our gastrointestinal tract must decide what gets incorporated into our bodies and what gets eliminated through our stool. It is a very important and intricate task, and if we are suffering symptoms associated with IBS, then we can assume that this imperative role is not being conducted properly. This is why it is imperative we address chronic gastrointestinal distress seriously, and just suppress the symptoms, so that we can prevent future illness and disease.
There are a multitude of gastrointestinal conditions that are associated with IBS symptoms which can be treated and actually cured. Here is a list of some of them and a little information about each one:
SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
This diagnosis can be made by testing one’s breath or, more recently, blood. SIBO can be caused by hypochlorhydria (lack of stomach acid), induced by long-term use of acid-blocking medications like Nexium or Prevacid, or related to aging. Other causes can be antibiotic usage, poor diet, or stress, among others. The treatment consists of either antibiotics or antimicrobial herbs, both of which have been shown to be just as effective by a study done at Johns Hopkins University. The incidence of recurrence after treatment is high, so it’s best to work closely with your doctor on this.
Most people can absorb about 25-50 grams of fructose from one meal; however, some can absorb less than 25 grams. This can lead to excessive fructose in the GI tract and IBS-like symptoms. This has become more of an issue recently due to the addition of high-fructose corn syrup to so many processed foods. Avoiding these and high-fructose fruits can certainly help with symptoms. Testing can be done with a breath test by certain gastroenterologists.
This is a giant issue that is frustrating on multiple levels. For one, it is not recognized as a diagnosis by the conventional medical world. Secondly, it is rampantly increasing due to liberal and overuse of antibiotics and excessive sugar in our diets. Third, no reliable testing exists to diagnose it. And last but not least, it can be very difficult to get rid of.
For many reasons, including astronomical changes in our food industry and production over the past 50 years, we are becoming more sensitive to multiple foods and additives (gluten, dairy, soy, corn, nightshades, preservatives, emulsifiers, etc).
Another diagnosis that is difficult to make and treat. However, if this is highly suspected, many times we will empirically treat patients with herbs or medications that are well tolerated, benign, and effective.
Gut-brain axis disturbances
We know now that there is direct interplay between our emotions and the microbes that live within our GI tract. If we are chronically stressed, for instance, certain neurotransmitters will dominate our brain, nerves, and blood, and cause maladaptive changes in our microbiome which can lead to IBS-type symptoms. Ensuring that mental health is being addressed is imperative to our gastrointestinal health.
In addition to the gut-brain axis, there is also a direct interplay between our hormones and our gut bacteria. There is bi-directional communication happening between all our sex hormones (i.e., estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone), and thyroid hormones and the bacteria that live in our GI tracts. If our hormones are imbalanced, then our microbiome’s bacterial environment will likely also become imbalanced, and visa versa.
Histamine is a naturally occuring compound in our bodies whose main role is to create allergic immune responses, control gut function, and also act as a neurotransmitter. Our main mode of breaking down histamine in the gut is through an enzyme called Diamine Oxidase or DAO. Sometimes people have an unbalanced ratio of histamine to DAO, and they are unable to handle histamine in the diet without getting discomforting symptoms like diarrhea, headache, runny nose, asthma, low blood pressure, palpitations, rashes, itching, flushing, etc. Once discovered through history or lab work, histamine intolerance can be treated with a low-histamine diet, gut healing (with the goal of increased DAO production), and antihistamine medications and/or supplements.
This is not a complete list of all the pieces of the puzzle that make up our gastrointestinal health. As you can see, there are multiple factors that should be addressed when a patient presents with gastrointestinal upset. The key is finding a doctor to work with you.
It can sometimes take a lot of investigative work, and certainly takes lots of patience and diligence to get to the answer. But believe me, to heal your gut, the center of your health, it will all be worth it.