When you deal with problems in the bathroom for so many months or even years, you start to think everyone has those issues. But digestive disorders are curable — and nothing to be embarrassed about.
According to the International Foundation of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. That is almost a quarter of American adults.
It is almost sad to see IBS patients “treated” with pharmaceuticals that temporarily mask some symptoms and bring about all sorts of adverse side effects.
At PrimeHealth, our approach is identifying and treating the root cause of your IBS symptoms. In our practice, we have witnessed astounding success when patients are encouraged to naturally treat the underlying cause of their IBS.
If you live in the greater Denver area, click here to schedule a free consultation with us. We deliver results you will not find in a conventional hospital, and we empower patients to take an active part in their own healing.
What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (AKA spastic colon) is a disorder of the large intestine. It causes recurrent abdominal pain and diarrhea and/or constipation over a significant period of time.
If you are experiencing changing bowel habits, it may be wise to see a healthcare provider sooner rather than later.
There are two basic types of IBS: diarrhea-predominant (IBS-D) and constipation-predominant (IBS-C).
There is also a “mixed” type (IBS-M) where your IBS alternates back and forth between the two types.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (in Men & Women)
What are the first signs of irritable bowel syndrome? It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of IBS:
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea, loose stool
- Undesired weight loss
- Urgency to go
For women on their menstrual cycle, menstrual cramps can be confused with abdominal cramping. However, most women are good at deciphering which is which.
Telling the difference between IBS and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) can be tricky. IBS and IBD are separate classifications. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are examples of IBD, which are considered more severe disorders than IBS.
Extra-gastrointestinal IBD symptoms (outside of the gut) include eye inflammation, joint pain, and extreme fatigue. The diagnosis of IBD is confirmed from a colonoscopy and biopsies of the digestive tract.
Diagnosing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
To diagnose IBS, we use the Rome criteria. A diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome results when you have experienced recurring abdominal pain for six or more month or any two of the following three in the past three months:
- Pain or relief related to bowel movements
- Change in frequency of bowel movements
- Change in consistency of bowel movements
Right off the bat, we will ask about personal medical history and family history. We’ll also rule any more serious causes of the symptoms (ie: IBD, Celiac disease, colon cancer, carcinoid syndrome). A colonoscopy may be required to rule out these out completely..
In order to identify the underlying cause of your IBS, we will discuss and test for certain IBS triggers:
- Food allergies
- Leaky gut
- Yeast overgrowth
- Hormone imbalance
Keeping up-to-date on a food diary may be very helpful in nailing down potential IBS triggers.
We also run SIBO tests for all our patients with IBS, as SIBO is a common cause of its symptoms. SIBO stands for “small intestinal bacterial overgrowth”.
The majority of the time, the test will come back positive.
Glucose and lactulose breath tests are less invasive diagnostics than blood tests and effectively test for SIBO. A methane-positive test usually indicates a constipation-dominant IBS while a hydrogen-positive test normally indicates diarrhea-dominant IBS.
This gives us a great idea of how to treat your IBS, so we can focus on solving the underlying causes.
Common Triggers of IBS Symptoms
This is where PrimeHealth shines. Unlike conventional practices, PrimeHealth identifies and treats the underlying triggers of diseases like irritable bowel syndrome.
Chronic stress is a major trigger for IBS. Daily stress can literally weaken your bowels (by messing with your nervous system), specifically your migratory motor complex (MMC). This means the muscles in your intestines are not able to do what they need to do.
Antibiotics are often connected to bowel diseases, since antibiotics kill good bacteria with the bad (which may lead to leaky gut). The balance of good bacteria in your gut determines your gut and immune health.
Leaky gut syndrome is when an imbalance of good bacteria in your gut leads to weakened intestinal lining. Specifically, this weakens the tight junction proteins that let nutrients pass from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. That causes all sorts of immune dysfunction, digestive issues, and potentially inflammation throughout the body.
Hormone imbalances can result in IBS. There is a direct interplay between your hormones and your gut. An imbalance in hormones can cause an imbalance in gut bacteria. In particular, thyroid disorders can be associated with digestive distress.
Candida or yeast overgrowth is a particularly frustrating IBS trigger. Though not recognized as a diagnosis in conventional medicine, candida/yeast infection cases are increasing due to antibiotic overuse and excess dietary sugar.
Parasites can also trigger IBS. We can test for parasites in a stool sample. While stool samples done in conventional medical centers may not pick up parasites, we use particular testing companies that detect parasites through PCR DNA analysis and advanced microscopic techniques.
Excessive alcohol use has been linked with IBS symptoms.
Low vagal tone has been shown in IBS and other bowel diseases. The vagus nerve is the biggest cranial nerve which connects your brain to the rest of your body. Stimulation can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate, resulting in fainting. Low vagal tone means low vagus nerve activity — also a sluggish digestive system.
Thyroid dysfunction is another potential IBS trigger. Since thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism may cause digestive system problems that lead to IBS.
Histamine intolerance can contribute to IBS. Histamine regulates allergic responses and gut function.
Poor hydration may also trigger IBS.
Food poisoning can also damage the migratory motor complex and lead to a prolonged bowel disorder such as IBS.
What foods trigger IBS attacks?
- Simple sugar, carbohydrates (in yeast infection)
- Excessive caffeine (in yeast infection or cortisol excess)
- Food allergens (For instance, if you’re allergic to dairy, dairy can trigger IBS.)
- Eating too frequently in general (The migratory motor complex is not activated when you do not give your body enough time to digest.)
Causes & Risk Factors
What is the main cause of irritable bowel syndrome? The primary cause of IBS is unknown. However, there are several known triggers, each of which causes IBS — such as leaky gut syndrome and, most frequently, SIBO.
What are the risk factors for IBS?
- Younger age
- Stomach flu (gastroenteritis)
Post-infectious IBS refers to irritable bowel syndrome that occurs after a bacterial infection in your digestive tract. Bacterial infections are a common cause of IBS.
5 IBS Treatments to Discuss with Your Doctor
Conventional doctors may prescribe antispasmodics like bentyl (dicyclomine) for cramping, loperamide/eluxadoline for diarrhea, or lubiprostone/linaclotide for constipation. But we believe the side effects are not worth the superficial treatment of symptoms, not causes.
Here are a few IBS treatments worth mentioning that you can discuss with your healthcare provider:
- Rifaximin is the generic of Xifaxan, an antibiotic which is FDA-approved to treat IBS-D. Rifaximin is the only medication we prescribe for hydrogen-dominant IBS. While many insurance companies will not pay it’s high price tag, we use pharmacies in Canada to obtain the generic form at an extremely reasonable price.
- For methane-dominant IBS, there are more options. Rifaximin in conjunction with another antibiotic has been shown in studies to yield more positive results. Neomycin is a potential antibiotic we may use. But if a patient tests positive for parasites, we will prescribe an antiparasitic antibiotic, either metronidazole or tinidazole.
- Biofilm disruptors are a way to weaken harmful bacteria. Often, bacteria will form a biofilm to adapt to their environment. Biofilms are very resistant to antibiotics, so a biofilm disruptor is sometimes needed to neutralize bacteria’s defenses.
- Fecal transplant is a procedure that transfers healthy stool into a patient with a digestive disorder. This restores a lot of healthy bacteria to the patient. This should be considered with caution, but there is convincing science to back up this procedure.
- Prokinetics (AKA promotility agents) are benign medications that are useful in very resistant cases of IBS. Prokinetics aid in digestion when your digestive tract does not work as effectively as it needs to. Prokinetics alleviate bloating. Some examples are ginger, low-dose naltrexone, and prucalopride.
A 2014 study revealed that certain herbal blends were as effective as Rifaximin in treating SIBO. So, for many patients, the all-natural route is the best one.
Natural Treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Below, we will discuss the most common and effective natural treatment options for irritable bowel syndrome.
Is IBS curable? Yes, IBS can be cured in most cases. Yes, that is a controversial claim to make. But our patients prove it to be true.
The conventional medical community does not recognize an official cause for IBS — because there are several! — so conventional doctors almost always only prescribe medications that mask symptoms to try and improve quality of life without treating the actual disease.
This creates a vicious cycle of dependency on these synthetic medications that do not treat your IBS but can lead to ugly side effects.
At PrimeHealth, we identify which of the many IBS triggers a patient might deal with. Often, eliminating all triggers can lead to the reversal of IBS altogether.
I will always remember one of our patients who had suffered from IBS and acid reflux for a few years. Doctors and gastroenterologists did their tests and prescribed him acid-blocking meds, which did not even relieve his symptoms.
Then, after two months of gut healing supplements and dietary changes, he had no more IBS symptoms. PrimeHealth’s approach to treating IBS works!
Without further adieu: What is the best natural treatment for irritable bowel syndrome?
1. The IBS Diet
As part of every treatment plan we recommend, the low-FODMAP diet is particularly helpful for IBS patients. Even the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases talks about the efficacy of the low-FODMAP diet.
FODMAPs are fermentable carbs. They are notorious for triggering bloating and other digestive issues. Low-FODMAP is not meant to be followed for more than a few months.
Avoid these foods on the Low-FODMAP diet:
- Wheat, rye
- Garlic, onions (contain fructans)
- Fruit (because of fructose)
- Asparagus, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms, snow peas
- Agave nectar, sugar alcohols
The low-FODMAP diet is meant to be an elimination diet. If symptoms subside while on the diet, you can slowly reintroduce foods, figure out which foods you can tolerate, and determine the amount you can handle.
The low-FODMAP diet is not recommended while being treated for SIBO with antibiotics. These antibiotics are more effective when you eat high-FODMAP foods, so your doctor should take this into consideration.
2. Lifestyle Changes
Exercise may help treat IBS. Studies show that physically active people are significantly less likely to suffer from IBS than inactive people.
Intermittent fasting (bowel rest) may help relieve IBS symptoms. If you’re eating too much too quickly, your digestive tract doesn’t have enough time to properly process the food. Fasting in the mornings or evenings can help correct this issue — shoot for a fasting window of 12 hours, then work your way to 14 – 16 hours between dinner and breakfast.
3. Probiotics and Other Gut Healing Supplements
Probiotics restore the good bacteria that many people lose over the course of their lives. Whether through diet, lifestyle, antibiotic overuse, or medical conditions, your gut needs a helping hand.
Probiotics treat leaky gut syndrome (an imbalance of good bacteria), and leaky gut is a potential trigger for IBS.
4. CBD for IBS
A study published in Biochemical Pharmacology confirmed that CBD treats bowel inflammation.
A 2016 study talks about how CBD affects many organ systems, and that despite the social controversy, CBD truly addresses digestive tract issues.
5. Vitamin D
The only vitamin that is also a hormone, vitamin D may be useful in treating IBS.
Research indicates that vitamin D deficiency is significantly more prevalent in those with IBS than in those without.
A 2018 study observed that vitamin D effectively treated IBS in adolescents.
6. Other Dietary Supplements
Here is a concise list of various dietary supplements and the IBS triggers that each one addresses:
- Digestive enzymes aid in the digestive process
- Berberine addresses yeast infections
- Artemisia treats parasites
- Chasteberry balances hormones
- Iodine helps correct thyroid problems
- Allicin treats SIBO
- Glutathione fights toxins
- Oil of oregano treats SIBO, yeast infections, and leaky gut
- Peppermint oil addresses constipation
- Certain herbal blends, like Dysbiocide or FC-cidal, treat SIBO
Possible Complications of IBS
There are several possible complications that can arise when you live with irritable bowel syndrome.
Good bacteria in your gut are usually out of whack. An imbalance in healthy gut bacteria can lead to leaky gut syndrome. Because a large portion of your immune system lives in your gut, a leaky gut often leads to an autoimmune condition or other immune dysfunction.
If you’re constipated, this can mean you are not detoxing properly. A healthy digestive system is detoxes your body of:
- Heavy metals
- Excess estrogen
Without detoxing these and other toxins, you can face hormone and/or immune disorders.
As with other digestive issues, you may be experiencing malabsorption. This means your digestive tract is not absorbing all the nutrients it needs to get out of whatever you eat. The food is hurrying through your digestive system too quickly.
Malabsorption can increase risk of osteoporosis (due to calcium malabsorption), cognitive decline (due to vitamin B12 malabsorption), infection, and immune dysfunction (due to zinc and vitamin A malabsorption).
Also, acid-blocking meds and laxatives (two potential IBS medications) can both lead to malabsorption.
You can reverse irritable bowel syndrome by treating the root cause of your IBS.
Patients have come through our doors who have had IBS for 10 years. Nothing worked for them until we identified and addressed the root cause. Suddenly, we saw massive improvements in a couple months!
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