Shedding the light on the IBS myth and what you can do to rid yourself of the symptoms. 
IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and is a disorder of the colon and intestines that is characterized by; abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation (or both), bloating and gas to name just a few.  
Many of you may have been diagnosed with IBS as roughly 20% of the population will suffer from it at some time during their lives. 
 
According to NHS website, ‘there is no cure for IBS’. However, I believe that IBS is really just a collection of symptoms, not the actual problem, and that the symptoms can be reversed or even completely removed for up to 90% of people.  
I feel that diagnosing ‘IBS’ is like saying you have a headache without identifying what caused the headache in the first place – impact trauma, dehydration, a cold, tiredness? So, in effect, diagnosing a headache is both vague and unhelpful.  
Doctors will tell you that you have IBS if you don’t meet the typical criteria for a disease which they can name and give you medicine for. The frustration of leaving the Consulting Room having been told that you have ‘IBS’, but still having absolutely no clue what to do or where to turn, in effect being told to ‘live with it’, is sadly too common. 
 
Equally important is to confirm that you don’t have something else.  
 
The list of 5 potential causes of IBS symptoms given below provides a guide for testing yourself to find out if you have any of these issues- but please be warned you may have 1 or more of them and it’s important you work with a health care professional to ensure that you take the required steps to rid yourself of the problem. 
 
Leaky Gut 
The lining of your intestines resembles a net with very fine mesh that in a healthy gut only certain substances are allowed to pass through. However, lining damage, causing enlargement of the holes leads to unwanted bacteria , viruses, yeast and undigested food literally leaking from your small intestines into your blood stream, leading to inflammation, food sensitivities and IBS like symptoms. 
 
Intestinal cells are connected by structures called tight junctions, not unlike the cement between paving slabs, keeping things nice and tight. However, a poor diet, especially one filled with gluten, can cause the over production of Zonulin, a protein responsible for keeping the cells tight and non-leaky. When Zonulin is over produced it opens-up these tight junctions, and lets a huge amount of things into your blood stream that shouldn’t be there. 
 
The best way to fix and repair leaky gut is to remove all the foods that your body is responding to, as this will help calm down the inflammation and allow your body settle down. Next it’s essential to get your gut lining and tight junctions tight again. A variety of supplements such as glutamine, aloe vera juice, and digestive enzymes would be my choice to get the job done. 
Food Intolerance 
Everyone seems to have some food sensitivity, but after fixing a leaky gut you may actually find you are able to eat foods that previously caused upset. People with leaky guts develop food sensitivities because partially digested particles of protein and fat leak through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream. Your body, as ever, has your best interests at heart and so when it detects something in your blood stream that shouldn’t be there it sends in the troops (immune system) to deal with the problem. From school science, when your body keeps seeing an invader it created antibodies so that next time it sees that ‘enemy’ it can easily send out the defence team to sort it out. 
 
Unfortunately, most food particles look the same once they are partially broken down so that over time a leaky gut will mean that more and more foods start to upset you. This was my experience when a major leaky gut meant that all I could eat was; salmon, lamb, cod, coconut oil, olive oil and lettuce. The best approach to address food sensitivity is an elimination diet and rid yourself of the foods that most commonly cause problems to your gut lining and then fix your leaky gut as listed above. If you are reacting to a lot of foods it may also be worth doing a YORK food sensitivity test so that you can accurately remove foods that are irritating your gut lining. 
 
Crohn’s Disease and Celiac 
This is just a quick point. But when diarrhoea is the main feature of your IBS problems it’s probably a good idea to get tested for these 2 diseases. Many times IBS can be diagnosed when in actual fact its undiagnosed Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease. As mentioned at the beginning it’s not just about finding out what you have got but also crossing out thing that you don’t have. 
 
SIBO 
SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is essentially where you have higher levels of bacteria in the small intestines – which is an area where absorption takes place and should have relatively little to no bacteria, this bacteria where it shouldn’t be causes a problem with fermentation. This fermentation is caused by the bacteria eating the food you are trying to absorb and giving off certain gas as a by-product. Studies in this area have determined that these bacteria are responsible for both constipation and diarrhoea, depending on the types of bacteria have moved into the small intestines. 
 
The best way to test for SIBO is through a Lactose Breath Test which can be found here (I have no link with this company, they just offer a good test with very quick results). This is simply a breath test where you take a base line breath sample before taking a sugar solution and breathing into a tube every 20 minutes for 3 hours. 
Once you get the results you will see a chart that will show Hydrogen and Methane Gas levels from each sample if the Methane level rises over the 3 hour period then the chances are you suffer from constipation. This is because methane gas is given off by bacteria that has been shown to interfere with the body’s elimination process and therefore slowing down the transit time of waste causing constipation. Alternatively, if the hydrogen levels climb then you have the opposite problem – diarrhoea. But be warned, even if you have no hydrogen present you may still have a hydrogen problem. This is because some of the bacteria that gives of methane actually feeds off hydrogen gas, so it will appear you only have a methane problem when in actual fact you have both – this is why you must work with a professional. 
Bacterial Imbalance 
As mentioned in last week’s article having a balanced microbime (bacteria) is absolutely essential for optimal health. Sadly, the modern diet deprived of nutritional value and loaded with sugar gifts the opportunity for bad bacteria to thrive, causing gas, bloating, leaky gut and constipation/diarrhoea. However, another overlooked cause of ‘IBS’ is actually food poisoning! Even after food poisoning has been ‘flushed’ out of your system, research has shown that people can still have increased white blood cells in the lining of the rectum. This indicated that even after the event is resolved and the food poisoning bacteria are gone, the inflammation is still present in the rectum which can lead to IBS symptoms. 
 
Why complete recovery doesn’t occur in some people is unknown, but it has been linked to genetics, immune response and the type of bacteria the person had in their gut to begin with. It has been shown that the longer the period of diarrhoea the more likely the food poisoning symptoms will progress to IBS symptoms. So the bottom line is simple make sure you cook your food properly and take care when camping or traveling abroad. 
 
If you would like to find out what the state of your bacteria is in your gut I would recommend a comprehensive stool analysis. This is the best ‘bang for your buck’ test and working with a health care professional they can interpret the results and actually be able to tell if you have potential leaky gut or SIBO along with the health of your gut bacteria. 
Stress 
As we talked about in the ‘gut-brain connection’ article the brain and the gut are constantly in a two way conversation. Because of this stress is known to alter bowel function and frequency; during times of acute stress, people can often have diarrhoea or experience nausea or other GI issues such as gas. However stress DOES NOT CAUSE IBS, it simple exacerbates the problem and brings the symptoms to life. The difference between stress and ‘IBS’ is that stress is usually acute and short lived whereas IBS symptoms are perpetual even after the stress has passed. 
 
If you are struggling with stress I strongly recommend that you look into meditation or mindfulness.  
I personally practice both and have found that I am much better able at handling stressful situations and bring myself back to a calm state. 
 
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