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The Truth about what causes IBS
May '15

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not only something that I help clients with everyday, but it is also something that I struggled with for many years...

 

When I was 13, after a year of suffering crippling abdominal pain, a bunch of tests, medications and misdiagnosis including appendicitis and stomach ulcer, I was told I had irritable bowel syndrome IBS. After this diagnosis, I was informed, as most IBS sufferers are, to go away and cope with it, there was nothing really to be done. I spent my teenage years and early twenties believing this for the most part as all the advice both medicinal (antidepressants, antispasmodics) and holistic (food eliminations, supplements, teas), that I tried made no difference. It was horrendous at times from emotional, social and physical point of view. It gradually got worse, then other health issues arose including eczema, chronic UTIs and tonsillitis, acne, irregular periods. At the age of 25 I had a crisis point, ended up in hospital and felt that something had to change. I started to research and found concrete ways to change my diet and lifestyle. I got better, completely better and realised that nutrition was my passion too.

 

The misconception about IBS is that it is a disease, in fact the opposite is true. If you have IBS, the doctors should have ruled out any diseased state. IBS is the name for the collection of symptoms that you are experiencing inc. abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence. That is not to say that there isn't something wrong with your health, however the underlying cause behind these symptoms is considered ‘functional’ rather than a state of disease. As they are not considered medical causes they are not tested for in conventional medical testing. These possible ‘functional’ causes fall into the main categories below:

 

Dysbiosis

Otherwise known as gut flora imbalance, is the most common functional cause found in the majority of those suffering with IBS*. We have billions of microflora, up to 2kg living in our intestines. Gut flora not only help us digest our food but detoxify via a link to the liver, is part of our immune system, and can even effect our mood via the gut-brain axis. Not enough of the right ones or too many of the wrong and this can cause gut dysfunction (IBS) as well as being linked to hormone balance, weight gain, mood disorders and lower immunity. It can be caused by a number of factors, including stress, antibiotic use, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, food intolerances and high sugar diet.

 

Parasites

When we think of parasites we think of scary creatures burrowing inside us from tropical climes. However most parasites are microscopic and often go undiscovered and/or untreated. They are often contracted via food, water or poor sanitation, ending up as chronic bacterial infection.  Dientamoeba fragilis and Blastocystis hominis are the commonest parasites in the UK and are linked to IBS**. There is a theory that these bacteria can take hold more easily or cause symptoms in those with dysbiosis.

 

Food intolerance

This is the place that people often skip to when they start suffering GI symptoms but it is important to understand

A) They aren’t as common as you may think

B) There are 2 types of food intolerance developed and inherent.

 

If you have an ‘inherent’ intolerance it usually means you don’t have the ability via lack of enzymes etc. to break down that particular food effectively.  If you are lactose intolerant or Celiac then this is you. If you have ‘developed’ intolerance, it may mean that your digestive system has become compromised  (often due to dysbiosis or parasites) so you can no longer cope with certain foods, in which case heal your gut and your tolerance will return. Or you may also develop an autoimmune response to certain foods, which may express itself in other areas of your health e.g. eczema, psoriasis, acne, arthritis, Hashimoto’s, SLE etc. Often this is irreversible and you will need to strictly avoid these foods long term.

 

Low enzymes, bile or stomach acid

Stomach acid, bile and pancreatic enzymes all play key roles in breaking foods down in the digestive system. If any one of these is low then it can cause IBS symptoms. Stomach acid can be affected by specific parasite called H. Pylori, equally it often lowers with age. Bile is produced in the liver and stored in the gall bladder so issues in these areas may be the root of the problem. Enzymes are produced initially in the mouth, something as simple as chewing your food better can make a difference. Equally pancreatic enzymes can be low due to pancreatitis, ageing or just generally low.

 

Poor Diet

Lastly but by no means least, poor diet can contribute. Key areas being not drinking enough water or having enough fibre in your diet. Many foods can be inflammatory to your gut lining including processed foods, caffeine, red meats, alcohol, low grade inflammation can lead to pain and discomfort.  If your digestion is already compromised lots of raw or wholefoods (generally very healthy) can cause you issues as they are hard to break down.

 

Stress and Emotional Tummy

As already mentioned our gut and gut flora is linked to our nervous system. We feel emotions (butterflies) in our stomachs. Stress can have a negative affect on the gut flora and equally divert resources away from digesting causing problems later on.

 

It is my job as a nutritional therapist to investigate, identify and then shift the balance back to optimal function. An informed and targeted approach is key to getting results, and healing your gut for good. Poor digestion or IBS can have far reaching effects beyond the localized pain and discomfort.

 

 

References:

* http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2012.05007.x/full

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2982.2012.01891.x/full

** http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111868

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.4161/gmic.2.1.14755

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