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Getting to the bottom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

Gut and digestive issues are the most common issues I see in clinic, so I want to share some essential info with you on this gutsy topic!

In Australia, IBS affects about 1 in 5 people. That’s 20% of the population. And it’s more common in women than in men.

What’s not common is how IBS presents or what causes and leads to its symptoms.

Symptoms and effects of IBS differ from person to person, as do triggers, underlying causes and contributing factors.

This makes IBS hard to define, manage and treat. There's often no clear or obvious cause, and despite the fact you may be ‘diagnosed’ with IBS, it's not actually a disease.

So what is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS is a collection of symptoms caused by a combination of physical, environmental and emotional factors. The type and combination of contributing elements differ broadly between individuals, but the symptoms can be similar.

Some of the most common signs of IBS are:

  • Abdominal bloating or cramping, combined with either:

  • Ongoing loose stools (diarrhoea)

  • Or constipation

  • Or fluctuations between constipation and diarrhoea

If you see a doctor for your symptoms, they’re likely to run tests (blood, colonoscopy, ultra sound), to rule out possible structural or functional problems in the gastrointestinal tract.

A ‘diagnosis’ of IBS is generally given if these tests return clear and no ‘reason’ can be found for the symptoms.

Technically, you’d meet the criteria for IBS if you have 2 of the symptoms listed above, at least 3 days a week for at least 3 months.

Some people can pinpoint when their symptoms started, and that’s helpful for exploring the cause. Most people have had symptoms on and off for so long they can’t remember when it began. That makes the investigative work a little trickier…

What might cause IBS?

There are a bunch of things that may trigger, contribute to or create an environment for IBS symptoms to show up. They include:

  • Food intolerances or sensitivities

  • Long-term poor dietary choices

  • Stress and its partner-in-crime, anxiety

  • Insufficient serotonin in the gut

  • Recent illness or infection

  • Imbalanced gut bacteria

  • Yeast or bacterial overgrowth

  • Gastric surgery

  • Recent surgery in general

  • Medications that suppress or affect stomach acid, digestive enzymes and/ or gut bacteria

Most people with IBS will have at least 2 or 3 of the above. Some have all the above and more.

The further you drill down with a single person, the more variation exists. For example: if the cause is a food intolerance, which food or foods? Is there an enzyme deficiency? Which enzyme? Why? Does yeast overgrowth play a role? Is that due to diet or infection? If diet, exactly what, in this particular person’s diet?

You can see why getting to the bottom of IBS is so tricky. And so personal. And why it’s often put in the too hard basket.

"We’ll just chuck it all in the too hard basket and call it IBS!"

Gut/Brain Connection

Did you notice that stress, anxiety and the ‘calming’ neurotransmitter, serotonin are all contributors? Many people who suffer gut symptoms also have some level of mental or emotional distress. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario as to which came first, but it seems to go in both ways. Managing stress often assists IBS symptoms and better gut health often helps better mood health.

IBS Awareness and you

If you suffer from IBS, I strongly encourage you to listen to your symptoms. Symptoms are the only way your body can tell you something is not right. Left unchecked, the inflammation, toxicity and damage caused by IBS in the gut can create worse issues down the track.

Listen to your gut!

It might take some time, lots of exploration and the right practitioner to help, but you don’t have to live with symptoms of IBS and you can find relief. If you’d like to explore your symptoms with me, reach out here for a consultation!

And spread the word! Share this with anyone you know who suffers IBS!

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