Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is very common issue that many deal with today. Many of patients have dealt with it or like disorders. It can affect up to 28% of people according to one study. (1) I am going to break down what it is along with 5 ways to treat it naturally.
IBS is a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder and as common as IBS is you would think it is well understood. Unfortunately it is not and the typical treatments go towards handling the symptoms. Which if you reading this you may be rolling your eyes because often the treatments are not effective and there are many symptoms. They include:
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
There are few different types: IBS-D, IBS-C, and IBS-M. You might be able to guess what D and C stand for: diarrhea and constipation. M is for those who suffer from both diarrhea and constipation.
IBS often suffer from other issues too such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic back pain, chronic pelvic pain, and headaches. (2) Others suffer from mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety which I have seen in my office. Which if you have read my recent article on Leaky Gut and Anxiety you know the connection. Suffice it to say, there exists a connection between our gut and our brain called the gut-brain axis.
IBS is often diagnosed according to these criteria:
- At least 3 days per month in the past 12 weeks of continuous or recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort
- Relief with defecation
- Altered stool frequency or form (3)
But doctors have not always agreed on these criteria. Nevertheless, the patient is still suffering so what can be done?
5 Causes to Think Over
Often IBS is consider idiopathic (fancy term for we don’t know). But there may be more to consider than meets the eye.
1. Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut syndrome is one most common issues today and you may not know you have it. It is the primary driving factor of inflammation in many if not all chronic issues. Our GI tract is consider external to our body despite being inside due to the exposure of anything we ingest and the fact that it is exposed to the outside world. It is a semi-tubular structure starting at our mouth and ending at our anus. The tract is lined with single layer of cells that are tightly bound to each other. The cells are covered with a mucus layer further protects us. In addition to this we have trillions of bacteria and microbes that live in our gut (more on this later). Lastly, 90% of our immune system resides here.
To illustrate this point, imagine a castle with a moat around it. The castle walls are our cells tightly bound together. The moat is the mucus layer and is home to the bacteria (mainly in the large intestine or colon). The immune system would be like the knights that guard the walls. The only way in or out is through the gates. To get in you must signal properly or you are not allowed in.
These defensive structures protect us from pathogens, undigested protein molecules, and toxins. However, these walls can be broken down, the moat dried up, and the knights enraged. When there are holes in the wall we call this leaky gut syndrome or gut permeability. Now the foreign invaders can get in; the pathogens, proteins, and toxins spoken of above. These trigger the immune system (the knights) and inflammation results. Essentially the gut (castle) is on fire.
Leaky gut has been implicated with IBS in the research and I have definitely seen it in my office. (4,5,6)
2. Gut Dysbiosis
The gut microbiome. This is what I was mentioning earlier. We have trillions of microbes that live with us in a symbiotic relationship. They provide nourishment and we provide a safe place for them to live. It was a wonderful relationship. But it is a relationship that can go awry. If you have read our other articles this has been implicated in many other common disorders like leaky gut such as autoimmune disease and thyroid health. And it is directly related to IBS. According to one study, 73% of IBS patients suffer from dysbiosis! (7) Other studies show an increase in pathogenic bacteria compared to those that we consider “good” such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. (8,9)
Due to this a common treatment has been to give probiotics which has been successful, however, many find that their symptoms return after stopping probiotics. This is why we tend not to use them. We do encourage fermented foods and other probiotic foods after a certain stage in the treatment. Nevertheless, gut dysbiosis is an important cause to IBS.
This plays right of the back of dysbiosis as it is a dysbiosis in of itself. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Most of our microbiome resides in our large intestine but due to poor diets and other causes the bacteria or fungi can overgrow into the small intestine. This is a nasty issue as it can cause malabsorption of nutrients and can be difficult to treat. And like with the other two, SIBO is present in up to 80% of IBS patients. (10)
SIBO and dysbiosis in general can be a tough cookie to crack because of some of the common treatments can make things worse. Antibiotics can help in the short term but then you have up to 12 months of trying to repopulate your gut bacteria. They can also cause secondary infections which can be quite brutal. Again hitting at the root cause is the best bet with natural remedies.
4. Gut Infection
Again, this is related to the last two. Certain pathogens can set up shop in your gut causing the IBS and further problems. Parasites such as Blastocystis homins, Dientamoeba fragilis, and Giardia spp. have been implicated in IBS patients. (11,12) These can come from a variety of sources such as drinking water. Furthermore, as we will get into later, our diets and lifestyles have made us prone to such infections.
Really, any infection will give your body a hard time and so all of them should be looked at in relation to healing from IBS.
5. Food Intolerances
These are very common. I wish I could say it was one food. Gluten tends to be the most heavily researched these days as well as dairy. But I have seen IBS patients with sensitivities to corn. A large review was done in 2015 implicating food allergies in IBS especially wheat. (13) Sometimes we are intolerant to food due to infections. Lyme for example can increase gluten sensitivity. I dealt with that for a number of years. Roundup or glyphosate can do the same. So environmental toxins should be looked at and possibly eliminated.
Like many doctors we do an elimination diet to help to determine the food intolerances but they can include:
5 Ways to Treat IBS Naturally
So you have seen the causes, but the thing to understand is that most likely it is not just one of them but all of them. Almost always every IBS patient we see is dealing with a multifactoral causation. This is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to treat. However there is a great deal of hope!
1. Ancestral Diet
We need to go back to the way our ancestors ate. Rid our homes of the processed junk. Our diet should be filled with fresh produce, healthy fats, and quality protein. The Standard American Diet is truly what its acronym states, it is a SAD diet. The processed grains and sugars feed dysbiosis. Furthermore, it is completely devoid of any nutrients so we cannot fight off any infections we may get. To make these foods palatable, food engineers devise ways of making them taste good and rewarding us with a desire for more. Our food is killing us.
Unfortunately, scientists have not been very clear on what a good diet is either. They have even promoted a diet that makes things worse based on faulty data from the 1960s thanks to Ancel Keys and others since him. All along there has been a cry from the sidelines to go back to the way our ancestors did things. I don’t mean the Dark Ages, as many will argue though many of them eat better than we do today. At least they ate organ meats from animals that were pasture-raised without the added hormones and the like. But I am talking about groups of people who ate more traditional ways such as consuming organs, but also fermenting foods, foraging, hunting, and eating a variety of foods. Check out Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price, it is a fascinating read.
This diet is full of organic vegetables and fruits, protein from pasture-raised animals, properly prepared foods such as sourdough bread (if you can handle it), health fats like avocados, butter, cream, suet, tallow, etc., and completely devoid of processed flours and sugar. Nutrient dense food! Organs being one of the biggest. And if you are like me and you are a baby about organs there is great product line we carry to get your daily liver dose from Ancestral Supplements.
This is first and foremost one of the most important parts.
2. Food Intolerances
Next you need to figure out your food intolerances. A quick and inexpensive way is the elimination diet. Where you remove several of the foods from your diet and wait a few weeks to see how you feel and then reintroduce them slowly, one at a time. In our office, we fine tune this with muscle testing. Muscle testing is a biofeedback technique we can use, using your body’s own nervous system to evaluate for certain issues and needed nutrients or herbs. We test for the foods I listed above but also for several others that are quite common too such as sugar, caffeine, and onion.
These foods can cause inflammation and must be eliminated from your diet in order for you to get better. Like I said earlier, I have found these in my IBS patients and they do not get better until they remove these foods from their diet. Otherwise, the inflammation and continues along with the symptoms. The easiest way to figure it out is to come in and get tested, or look up someone who does a similar technique in your area.
3. Anti-Microbial Herbs
There are several herbs that have been used around the world to help the body heal from infections. As was said earlier, it is very important to address the infections and dysbiosis that is most likely going on with IBS. Many infections can exists without you knowing about it. Some are simply an imbalance of good vs bad bacteria as was stated. But all of these need to be evaluated. We use highly potent herbs that are quite effective agents and provide a variety of other benefits too.
A personal favorite is melia or neem. It is a broad spectrum anti-microbial herb, but it can also help with blood sugar regulation and cholesterol levels. It is quite effective in treating dybiosis and infections. A word of caution, however, herbs are natural but that doesn’t mean they cannot do any harm though it is unlikely. It best to get an evaluation from a holistic practitioner before pursuing this course. It is much easier and saves you the headache of finding the right herbs. It is very individualistic and that is another reason we use muscle testing to help determine what each patient needs specifically. Another reason we don’t have one set protocol either.
4. Clear Environmental Toxins
Some of this has to do with avoiding certain toxins such as pesticides. It is good to eat organic, even better if it is local, and best if you can grow it yourself. Decent water quality is another important part. Make sure you have a good water source and/or filter. Local communities only filter out so much stuff. Our household cleaners, make-up, beauty products, etc. are another source of toxins. Heavy metal toxicity is lumped in this group as well. They can cause inflammation and make any problem worse. So removal of these toxic elements from your environment is necessary. We also have several herbs and supplements that help remove them.
A favorite is Takesumi Supreme. It is bamboo charcoal. It is quite good at bind and eliminating toxins in our body. We use it every day in my office. It also works well as a teeth whitener, for a bonus!
5. Rest from the Stress
We live in a chaotic world! Whether it is your job, your home, the world, or all three you need to rest. Stress only compounds the issue. Take some time to meditate or pray. Go to the woods and enjoy nature. Destress is highly recommended. Your body cannot heal while you are stressed. Let me repeat that, your body cannot heal while you are stressed. Take a breather. Hiking is nice out for me plus you can get some good forest bathing on which bolsters the immune system. Beautiful nature and immune support, double whammy!
All of these should be considered, but if you are looking for something do at home look into cleaning up your diet, try something like the Whole30 or low-FODMAP diet and do an elimination diet protocol along with it. Try eliminating dairy, gluten, corn, and nightshades for a month and see how you feel and then add them back in one at a time.
Hope this helps and provides some insight into IBS and how to treat it naturally. It is a multifactoral issue which demands multifactoral treatment, but it is treatable.