There are a lot of treatments for IBS but understanding the cause of IBS needs to be the priority, as this takes out the guesswork when it comes to treatment.
I read a statistic recently that 20% of people in Australia and the U.S experience IBS to some degree, and this can cause many problems like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain and excess gas which can make it uncomfortable, and even debilitating for some people to go out.
Do these symptoms sound familiar to you?
While irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a collection of symptoms and does not have a physical cause that can be picked up on a colonoscopy or gastroscopy, there is always a cause.
It can be frustrating for people to go to their doctors, have tests like a colonoscopy, blood tests and sometimes even a stool test and be told there is nothing wrong and you “just” have IBS and you will just have to put up with it.
That’s because there is not a “drug” to treat IBS effectively…. but once you identify the cause there are plenty of treatment options.
The first place to start and the cheapest option is your diet!
The two most likely culprits to cause IBS are dairy, especially the lactose component of dairy and gluten which is found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats.
The best way to test if these foods are causing issues for you is to eliminate them for a month and see what difference it makes to your symptoms.
This usually means eliminating many processed foods that contain gluten and you are better off replacing these foods with fresh options and not gluten-free processed products like cereals, bread, and biscuits which maybe gluten free but not healthy.
Recent research over the past 10 years has shown that high FODMAP foods also cause IBS symptoms. Many people have not heard of FODMAP’s and it is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyol’s basically what this means in plain English is any food that can ferment and create food for the bacteria in the small intestine, this leads to the IBS symptoms.
FODMAP foods also include many healthy fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, watermelon, garlic, onion and cabbage for example. These are foods that you do not want to eliminate forever as they are not only good for you but delicious as well, once the underlying cause is eliminated then many people can tolerate these foods again …. which leads us to SIBO!
Let me know if you need help with a FODMAP diet
I wrote an article recently on testing for SIBO in Australia as this is something that is generally not done by most doctors despite research showing that 80% of IBS is caused by SIBO.
What exactly is SIBO? SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and as the name suggests it means that you have too much bacteria in your small intestines.
You might be thinking that you are supposed to have bacteria in your intestines and that is true but 99.9% of the bacteria in your intestines should be in your large intestine, and you should have very little in your small intestines.
When the bacteria from your large intestine move into the small intestine due to infections, medications, diet or even stress they create hydrogen and methane gas, which is what causes the bloating and pain.
It is also these gases that cause constipation or trigger diarrhea, or for some people, they can have constipation for a few days and then a day of diarrhea!
At Planet Naturopath we can organize SIBO testing, the SIBO test is a breathe test and we can send kits anywhere in the world.
There is another bacterial infection called Helicobacter Pylori (H Pylori) and this one lives in the stomach.
In severe cases, it can lead to ulcers but for many people, it causes bloating, pain, reflux, heartburn as the classic symptoms, it can be bad for a few days and then the symptoms go away … only to come back a few days or a week later.
H Pylori can affect the absorption of nutrients by lowering your digestive enzymes, this can lead to low B12, iron, zinc and other nutrients along with symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, skin problems, and even muscle pain.
The doctor often tests for this bacterial infection with a simple breath test, and if the test shows that you are positive for the bacteria that means you are positive …. but there are often false negatives with the breath test so a negative result does not clear you of H Pylori.
The most accurate test is a G.I Map test which identifies what type of H. pylori infection you have (and also tests for many other pathogens), this is one of the tests that we recommend and it can be ordered here.
While the common treatment is antibiotics, there are natural options.
Parasite infections are more common than people think and you don’t have to travel to an exotic country to pick them, although that can definitely increase your chances! Parasite infections can come from contaminated food and water.
Parasites cause all of the typical symptoms of IBS like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas and pain but they can also affect your health in so many other ways.
Other symptoms include sleeping problems, skin conditions, fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, mood changes like depression and anxiety plus muscle aches and pains. You don’t need to have all of these symptoms but they are some of the most common.
Testing for parasites can be tricky and doing a special antigen stool test or a DNA stool test are often the best options but often your doctor does not do these stool tests. Also depending on the life cycle of the parasite, you may get a false negative test.
The G.I Map test is the best option for testing parasites
While there are many treatment options for IBS the first place is identifying the cause which will make treatment much more successful. The first place to start is with diet and then look into some of the specialized tests to see what are your best options.
If you have not tried cutting out gluten or dairy this can be a good place to start and then reassess how you feel, if it does not make a significant difference then the next step is to do the G.I Map test or the SIBO test
I work with clients throughout the world via video consultation or phone, if your not sure where to start or if the G.I Map stool test or SIBO test is the best option for you then a good idea is to schedule a 30-minute consultation.
During a 30-minute investigation consultation, I can find out more about your current symptoms, diet, supplements and what treatments you have tried, I can then make recommendations on the best treatment options for you
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions.
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