If you're suffering from IBS, you may feel like that's your lot. You've got to put up with it for the rest of your life.
That's because there's really no cure in the medical world. IBS is not even a disease, it's actually a set of symptoms that are NOT the result of a recognised disease (like bowel cancer or Inflammatory Bowel Disease).
Once you've been diagnosed with IBS, you're pretty much left to manage it on your own. There are some drugs that can help with symptoms, but they're not doing just that, managing the symptoms.
And guess what? IBS tends to flare up during the peri-menopause, so women over 40 are more prone to it. That's in part due to the close interconnection between hormones and the gut.
But the good news is that if you can find the root cause for it, then you have a fighting chance of actually resolving it for good.
What are the common symptoms of IBS?
The classic symptoms of IBS are related to the gut. You can have any mix of the following; constipation, diarrheoa, bloating, gas, heartburn, reflux, pain, cramps, feeling of fullness, nausea, undigested food in stool, previous gastroenteritis or infection.
But digestive issues don't tell the whole story. If you've got an unhappy gut, you can get symptoms anywhere in the body, including; headaches or migraines, joint pain or muscle pain, gum disease or bleeding gums, depression, anxiety, brain fog, mood swings, unexplained fatigue, weight gain, poor sleep, sinusitis, asthma or any autoimmune conditions like psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's, Graves', M.S., Diabetes type 1, Lupus, Celiac disease and many others.
Common root causes of IBS
1. Underlying infections or microbial imbalances
We have a whole ecosystem living in our intestines, around 100 trillion (or thereabouts!), all different species of microbes and organisms that help us function. They have a whole host of roles to play, but they can get out of balance through various factors, including infection, stress, diet, medications and toxins.
2. Low stomach acid or enzymes.
You produce hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to help breakdown your food and pass it down the system. If it's not digested properly due to insufficient gastric secretions, it can sit in the gut too long. It can cause gas, bloating, indigestion, and problems further down the digestive tract.
3. Food sensitivities.
Certain foods can cause some of us to react and launch a bit of an immune response against them. They're not immediately dangerous, but they can cause a lot of symptoms and over time they can be quite damaging. The big ones are gluten and dairy, although any foods can cause a reaction if your gut is inflamed and sensitive.
4. Leaky gut.
The official name for a leaky gut is intestinal impermeability. It's like your gut lining goes from a tight sieve to a colander! What that means is that you can get waste particles, undigested food, pathogens and toxins leaking in through the digestive tract to the blood stream where they are not supposed to be.
That can stimulate your immune system to react, because it doesn't recognize these things as normal. Then you can get more inflammation, and more risk of autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Diabetes type 1, Hashimoto's or Graves' disease, Celiac disease, Crohn's disease, psoriasis, M.S., amongst others!
Natural Solutions for IBS
The great news is that IBS is not something you have to put up with! Here are some tips that can help you;
- Eat slowly. How many times do we bolt our food down, especially when we're busy? Just set aside 10, 15 minutes to eat more mindfully. That really helps because the first stage of digestion is in the mouth, so when you chew and you're more conscious of eating, that's going to stimulate the production of stomach acid and enzymes.
- Stress management is vital. If you have any stress in your life, then you're more likely to have digestive issues. Cortisol suppresses digestive functions as they are not a priority when you are in ‘fight or flight' mode. Set aside at least 10 minutes to yourself every day. Whether you do some deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation, or whatever it is that switches off your stress response, that's going to really help your digestion.
- Remove the food triggers. If you get any kind of symptoms of bloating or pain, or diarrhea or constipation, then start looking at what you're eating before that happens. Remove any potential triggers for a minimum of 3 weeks, then re-introduce them. You'll soon notice any reactions! If you want support with this, try our 30 Days to Happy Hormones online programme which eliminates gluten and dairy which are the most common intolerances.
- Certain medications can be problematic for the gut. This includes painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetomol which can damage your gut lining. Next time you reach for them, check that you really need them first. Antibiotics we know strip out all your bacteria, good and bad. If you have to take antibiotics, then always take a good course of probiotics and take them at night so that you're not competing with the medication.
- Fibre – feed your good bacteria with plenty of fibre (they love it!). Include pulses, fruit and plenty of different coloured vegetables.
- Probiotic foods – including live yoghurt, and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, miso, and kimchi.
- Prebiotic foods – foods that feed the good bacteria, including leeks, onions, garlic, green bananas, and cold cooked potatoes. They've got something in them called resistant starch which your good bacteria absolutely love!
- Avoid processed foods – they contain preservatives, additives and emulsifiers that can alter your gut bacteria.
- Limit alcohol – can damage your gut lining. Reduce your alcohol and always have it with food.
- Eat organic – avoid pesticides as much as you can.
- Identify any infections – get yourself tested for an underlying gut infection or imbalance that could be causing your symptoms. Check out my interview with Louise Joyce on how helpful stool testing can be.
If you want to resolve your IBS, it's worth investigating the root cause. Contact us for details of our stool testing and 1-1 support to help get you symptom free!