Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common digestive disorders. It affects your large intestine and causes a range of uncomfortable symptoms including abdominal pain, gas, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. In some cases, IBS can also cause nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to further health complications in the future. Additionally, many patients living with IBS report feeling anxious, depressed, and even hopeless.
The good news is that IBS can be managed successfully with the right interventions! As a functional medicine practice, we treat IBS by first identifying and addressing the root cause of the condition. Conventional medicine offers very few solutions for IBS patients, including laxatives or antidiarrheal drugs, antidepressants, steroids, and pain medication. While these treatment methods may improve a patient’s quality of life by masking their symptoms, they are not treating the symptoms at their source. A well-functioning digestive system is critical for overall health, and virtually every system in your body relies on a healthy gut.
IBS affects up to 45 million Americans, plaguing them with symptoms that are sometimes so severe that they can’t even leave their homes. Some patients even suffer with symptoms for decades before they finally get some relief. Today we’ll talk about how functional medicine gets to the root cause of your IBS symptoms and how you can alleviate your symptoms and take back control of your life.
1. The Root Cause of IBS
The main cause of most IBS cases is a gut imbalance. A lifetime of chronic stress, NSAIDS (Advil, aspirin, etc.), antibiotics, gut infections, alcohol consumption, and eating a standard American diet eventually wreaks havoc on your digestive system.
Think of the lining of your gut as a gatekeeper. It is the gatekeeper’s job to decide which particles should be absorbed into your bloodstream, and which particles are harmful and should be turned away. When your gut lining is compromised, the tiny holes that should only allow water and nutrients to pass through grow larger, which allows toxins, undigested food particles, and other potentially harmful molecules to pass through. This triggers an immune response that leads to inflammation, allergies, autoimmunity, mood disorders, and other chronic conditions.
In order to be healthy, you need a healthy gut microbiome. This means that the good bacteria in your gut should far exceed the number of bad bacteria. If the bad bacteria begin to take over, they can accumulate in your small intestine, causing the starches and sugars you eat to ferment. This is a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which is a common root cause of IBS.
However, SIBO is not the only cause of IBS. Food sensitivities, insufficient digestive enzymes, parasites, heavy metal toxicity, and zinc or magnesium deficiency can also lead to IBS.
As you can see, each patient’s root cause is unique. To treat your IBS symptoms once and for all, we identify your individual root cause and create a treatment plan that suits your health goals, budget, and lifestyle. IBS treatment should never be one-size-fits-all. Here are some of the most common steps for treating IBS.
2. Lab Testing
The first step toward treating your unique case of IBS is to get the appropriate lab tests done to determine your root cause. A functional medicine doctor will likely test for immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to identify potential food sensitivities that could be contributing to your symptoms. Some of the most common food sensitivities include gluten, dairy, corn, peanuts, soy, eggs, and yeast. Once you have identified your food sensitivities, you can remove those foods from your diet so you can start feeling better faster.
If your budget does not allow for lab testing, you can also try your own elimination diet. To do this, you’ll eliminate the above-mentioned foods for 12 weeks, and slowly reintroduce them one at a time to see if any of them cause symptoms or reactions. We work closely with our patients to support them during their elimination diets, and teach them how often to reintroduce, and how to monitor for potential reactions.
3. Eliminate Bad Gut Bacteria
Since bad gut bacteria are responsible for many IBS symptoms, it goes without saying that eliminating them is the key to feeling better! Your functional medicine doctor will suggest the safest and most appropriate way for you to eliminate bad bacteria that is causing your IBS symptoms and affecting your ability to live a normal life. Some common treatment options include medications such as Rifaximin, Nystatin, and Fluconzaole to address your underlying gut infections. This process may take a few weeks to complete under the care and supervision of a functional medicine doctor.
4. Repopulate the Good Gut Bacteria
Once you’ve successfully cleared the bad gut bacteria from your system, it’s time to repopulate your gut with friendly bacteria that will boost your digestion and alleviate your symptoms! This is where probiotics and prebiotics come in handy. Probiotics are living microorganisms that populate your gut. Prebiotics are “food” for the probiotics to help them thrive and grow to help ward off bad bacteria and keep your digestive system healthy.
Additionally, you may want to use digestive enzymes during meals to help you digest your food more effectively while your gut heals. Some supplements that may aid in this process include glutamine, zinc, vitamin A, and fish oil.
Treat IBS at Five Journeys
You aren’t doomed to live with your IBS symptoms forever! At Five Journeys, we develop personalized treatment protocols for each patient to ensure that we are treating their unique root causes and symptoms. If you’re ready to take back control of your health, call us today to schedule a consultation!