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Getting to the bottom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome you will know only too well the impact that it can have on your life. It’s a disorder I see very often in my clinic and this complex and debilitating condition is problematic on many different levels. It can be hugely embarrassing, uncomfortable and sometimes excruciatingly painful. IBS can have a real impact on your daily routine and those with the condition can fear public transport, social situations and travelling.

If you have been diagnosed with IBS, you may well have been suffering with it for years and, while a diagnosis can – at first– offer comfort in finally having a recognised problem, the satisfaction is short lived because commonly that’s where all support ends. Often you’re left no further along in actually fixing what the problem is.

IBS affects women up to 1.5 to 3 times more than men. The term itself is essentially meaningless; it’s a catch-all term used to encompass a huge variety of digestive issues. IBS can co-exist with and can be linked to endometriosis, PMT, depression, fatigue and brain fog.

Common symptoms of IBS can be:

  • Bowel urgency

  • Cramping

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating

  • Wind

  • Constipation or diarrhoea or both.

The Gut/Brain Connection

Stress and trauma can certainly make IBS symptoms worse and this is because our gut and our brain are very much linked. Most of us have felt a challenging situation or difficult emotion in our gut. You know the feeling, ‘butterflies in our tummy’, ‘stomach in knots’ or ‘gut feeling’. Things that affect our nervous system, mood or emotions will affect our gut and for those with IBS this connection is even more sensitive.

Identifying the root cause of IBS can be difficult. In my experience, the following 5 conditions can play a big part.

1 SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)

Around 60% of people with IBS will have SIBO. Though you might have heard about good (and bad) bacteria in the gut, really what experts are talking about is the balance of bacteria in the large intestine:the colon. The small intestine shouldn’t have many bacteria, and each day the body should perform a flush to sweep bacteria from the small intestine and into the large intestine. This flush is called the ‘migrating motor complex’. For a huge variety of reasons (historic food poisoning being the most common, but also low levels of stomach acid or adhesions play a role, among others) the bacteria are not swept away. The trouble is that these bacteria can ferment the food in your small intestine, causing gas, belching, bloating, pain and a variety of other symptoms, including constipation and/or loose stools, and even anxiety. A breath test* can establish which gases are present, and we can devise an action plan based on your results. (*Breath tests are carried out externally via referrals from our clinic).

2 Lactose intolerance

This is when your body is not able to tolerate lactose, a type of sugar found naturally in milk and other dairy products. Essentially, bacteria in your intestine feed on these milk sugars, leading to a host of IBS symptoms, like bloating and gas, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea. It can go hand in hand with other digestive complaints, such as coeliac disease or increased intestinal permeability (‘leaky gut’). Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed via a simple at-home breath test.

3 Fructose malabsorption

The symptoms from fructose malabsorption are very similar to lactose intolerance. Fructose (which is found in fruit, honey and many processed foods) is a sugar, which, like lactose, is digested in the small intestine. Some people cannot absorb fructose, and what is not absorbed is fermented by intestinal bacteria, causing bloating, cramping, gas and distension of the stomach. You might also experience brain fog and headaches. A breath test will diagnose the condition.

4 Dysbiosis

Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the levels of beneficial (good) and pathogenic (bad) bacteria in the large intestine or colon. This is now common due to overuse of antibiotics and alcohol, food sensitivities, an increase in high sugar diets, and stress. Symptoms can vary from a sluggish bowel or diarrhoea, pain, bloating and flatulence, to chronic bad breath, joint pain, fatigue and food sensitivities. Dysbiosis is also implicated in a variety of health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. A stool test can help establish whether your gut bacteria are out of balance, along with a host of other markers that might be useful in getting to the root of your digestive problems.

5 Yeast overgrowth

Where the gut environment becomes out of balance (due to dysbiosis), yeast can thrive. Diets high in sugar feed the yeast – although if you think you might have a yeast overgrowth, it’s worth noting that long-term yeast problems can mean that the yeast cells are pathogenic or disease causing, and that the yeast has switched its metabolism to also be able to digest protein and fat. Symptoms of yeast overgrowth include recurring thrush, gas or bloating, fatigue, bad breath, cravings for sweet foods, joint pain and brain fog.

A stool test can establish the presence of candida or other yeast overgrowth.

Women’s Health and IBS

Living with IBS can be debilitating. So many women are left in the dark on why they're experiencing IBS symptoms let alone getting a proper diagnosis. Most medicines prescribed (such as antispasmodics, laxatives, and antidepressants) don't get to the root of what's really creating the distress people with IBS experience.

So what can you do?

If you’ve been officially diagnosed with IBS a good place to start trying to identify your triggers. These are often different for everyone, which is why it's essential to listen to your body. A simple, yet very effective tool is to keep a 7-day food journal. Write down what you eat at each meal and snack and then notice how you feel between 15 minutes and an hour later. This will help determine the foods that aggravate your gut.

A holistic nutrition and lifestyle approach solution can help in getting to the root cause of your symptoms and develop a dietary strategy to help you find relief.

Some people struggle with IBS and digestive issues for years but you don’t have to. If you’re serious about getting to the cause of the problem, I’m happy to discuss your symptoms and help find a way forward. You can book a free IBS health check with me by clicking here.

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