What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome also known as the "spastic colon", "irritable colon", or "nervous colon", is a sadly common gastrointestinal disorder experienced by nearly 15% of the population. It's characterized by painful and sometimes debilitating abdominal cramping, constipation and/or diarrhea, gas, bloating, and the sudden onset of urgency.
It is not the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Crohns, or Colitis.
There is no known cure for IBS, however, medical science has made significant strides in understanding the "triggers" (both internal and external), allowing many sufferers to gain control of their symptoms through a process of systematic trial and error...
Eliminating triggers (like stress and certain foods) while testing various treatment options that may include supplementation of nutrients, minerals, herbals, probiotics, enzymes, and fibers that are shown to be particularly beneficial for IBS sufferers.
Over 40 million Americans have received an official diagnosis of IBS, with 80% of sufferers being women between 20 and 55 years of age.
And while IBS is not generally reported to progress into more serious health conditions, it can have an extremely negative impact on your overall quality of life, resulting in days off work, avoiding social events, an inability to travel, and general depression.
Plus, it only makes sense, given that
- 60% of your immune system is found in your small intestine and,
- Your GI tract is responsible for keeping toxins out of the rest of your body,
- Your GI tract is responsible for "feeding" your body nutrients & minerals, and
- 95% of your body's serotonin (which plays a role in pain management & mood) is contained in your GI tract
A lifetime of IBS where triggers aren't effectively managed is bound to have a collectively negative impact on your overall physical and mental health!
Symptoms of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Symptoms of IBS can vary greatly from person to person, but frequently include:
- Abdominal pain
- Gas & excessive passing of wind
- Uncontrollable urge to defecate
Symptoms that are often present with IBS but that may not seem (at first glance) to be related to your compromised digestive function include:
- Low energy
- Frequent headaches
- Eczema or dermatitis
- Bad taste in mouth
- Poor sleep quality
- Sexual dysfunction/issues
- Urinary problems
The frequency and degree of symptoms can vary drastically from person to person.
However, managing your triggers using an educated combination of IBS-friendly diet, stress management, and daily supplementation can help reduce the frequency and degree of flare ups you experience.
In order for doctors to make a positive diagnosis of IBS, there's a set of criteria, called the “Rome III Criteria,” that you must meet.
You must have experienced recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least 3 days
per month in the last 3 months associated with two or more of the following:
- Improvement with defecation
- Onset associated with a change in frequency of stool
- Onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool
You must have been experiencing symptom onset for 6 months prior to the official diagnosis.
If your doctor suspects that you may have IBS, he or she will ask about your symptoms, review your medical history, give you a physical exam, and perform diagnostic testing.
To further exclude other illnesses, your doctor may order blood and stool tests. They may ask for a breath test or ask you to temporarily eliminate dairy products from your diet to determine whether or not you're lactose intolerant.
They may also conduct a flexible sigmoidoscopy, in which a flexible, finger-sized tube with a camera is placed inside the rectum to examine the lower part of the colon. The entire colon and the rectum may also be analyzed with a colonoscopy.
Causes of IBS
The exact cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome has yet to be discovered.
However, having that said, medical science has continued to make significant advances in our understanding of IBS, and some common triggers have been uncovered that can be targeted and potentially managed through daily supplementation with IBS Relief System by Digestive Science.
Too little hydrochloric acid in the stomach
Digestion of food begins with a delicate balance of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes in your stomach.
Hydrochloric acid plays a critical role in the stomach, aiding in the digestion of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, as well as maintaining a pH level (acidic) in your stomach that helps to kill off bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Research has shown that one lesser known but common trigger of IBS can be too little hydrochloric acid in the stomach (hypochlorhydria), which can set off a series of problems including:
- Stomach doesn't properly digest proteins, having a far reaching impact on everything from collagen production, elastin, hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes, muscle, and much more.
- Potentially sets off an allergic reaction to partially digested proteins.
- Not enough hydrochloric acid to kill microorganisms in the food we eat, causing yeast, bacterial, viral, parasitic, and protozoal infections and more, with accompanying constipation, diarrhea, gas, etc.
- Minerals like calcium and magnesium are not properly absorbed.
By increasing your levels of hydrochloric acid, you may not only speed digestion and help kill off potentially harmful organisms before they reach your small intestine, but you can also improve the function of the digestive enzymes as well as nutrient absorption and synthesis!
Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract
Inflammation of the gut lining occurs for many reasons. Poor diet, food allergies, stress, drugs, antibiotics, candida (yeast), and fatty acid deficiencies can all be triggers.
And this inflammation is the first stage in a vicious cycle that sets off a wide variety of health problems ranging from slightly annoying to life-threatening.
Because when the gut lining becomes inflamed, cells separate and begin “leaking” toxic substances into your body that would normally be blocked.
Hypersensitive stress response
While it's not yet fully understood, medical studies to date have conclusively proven that there is a link between stress, anxiety, depression, and IBS.
More specifically, evidence is piling up showing that IBS sufferers frequently have abnormal communication between the brain and the gut.
An estimated 95% of your serotonin receptors are located in your intestinal tract! And research has shown that IBS sufferers may have extra sensitive pain receptors in their gut, which may be directly related to low levels of serotonin.
So while it's helpful to make lifestyle changes to reduce your overall stress levels, to combat your potentially low serotonin uptake, it can also be worthwhile supplementing to promote increased serotonin production!
Unbalanced intestinal flora
Intestinal bacteria perform important functions, including:
- Synthesizing roughly half a dozen vitamins, supplementing those that we get from our diet.
- Helping to eliminate more dangerous bacteria and pathogens like Salmonella.
- Stimulating your immune system. (Roughly 60% of the body's immune system is found in the small intestine!)
Yet medical science has been steadily piling up evidence, showing that the population of friendly bacteria in your digestive system is frequently not enough for optimal health, allowing “bad bacteria” to take over and create an imbalance.
And when these “bad bacteria” overtake your digestive system, a host of digestive problems can occur including bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements, and more!
- Inflammation can occur, overwhelming your body's ability to effectively metabolize, synthesize, and absorb nutrients.
- It can lead to toxins “escaping” or “leaking” through the walls of the gastrointestinal tract into the blood stream.
- It can trigger a host of other health problems that can include, at best, weight gain, fatigue, and chronic pain or, at worst, debilitating, life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
Irregular contractions of the digestive tract
As part of normal digestion, food is moved through your digestive tract with a series of wave-like, rhythmic contractions of the gastrointestinal tract walls, called peristalsis.
Peristalsis aids in nutrient absorption and digestion by bringing undigested material in contact with the colon walls as well as by pushing undigestable material towards the rectum.
When IBS is present, though, these contractions may be too fast (hypermotility) or too slow (hypomotility) resulting in either diarrhea or constipation, often with painful cramping.
Reducing emotional stress and avoiding trigger foods can be important steps in regulating these muscle contractions.
However, a daily supplementation of fibre, nutrients, minerals and herbals that support the normal function of the GI tract can be extremely beneficial, too, as your digestive system may be compromised to the point that you're not getting maximum nutritional benefit from your diet alone!
Other common triggers of IBS
- Infection - Studies have shown that you have a six times greater chance of developing IBS after experiencing a gastrointestinal infection. This is referred to as post-infection IBS.
- Hormones - Researchers believe that hormones may play a role in IBS, since many women report that their symptoms are worse before, during, and/or after menstruation.
- Food Allergies and Sensitivities - Diet is one of the biggest triggers of IBS. Your goal should be to eliminate trigger foods. If you have not yet identified which foods trigger flare ups, with guidance from your doctor, you may wish to experiment with an elimination diet that can help you to systematically identify problem foods. Foods that are commonly reported problematic are dairy, wheat, corn, insoluble fiberss, caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods.
- Stress and Anxiety - Research into IBS has demonstrated a strong link between the brain and gut (often referred to as "The Brain Gut Axis").While the jury is still out on how, exactly, this works, it's clear that there's a connection between your central nervous system and the specialized enteric nervous system of the gut that is profoundly impacted by stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that many IBS sufferers are prone to anxiety, panic attacks, and depression and that lessening psychological stress has a noticeably positive impact on the severity and frequency of IBS flare ups.
- Medications - Some drugs can trigger spasms of the colon, which can exacerbate your IBS symptoms. These drugs include:
- Medicine with sorbitol (an artificial sweetener)
- Hormones like contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy
- Eating while working or driving
- Eating too quickly
- Chewing gum
- Lack of exercise
Any IBS treatment program should start with an official diagnosis by a qualified medical professional. And you shouldn't stop taking prescribed medications without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor!
That said, most IBS sufferers will tell you that self-education is a critical step in gaining control of your IBS flare ups.
And no IBS treatment program is complete without:
- A healthy diet, free of trigger foods
- Drinking plenty of water
- A relaxed, thoughtful approach to meal times
- Better stress management (consider regular meditation)
- Regular exercise
As well, unless advised by your doctor, you should try to avoid laxatives, antidiarrheals, and antacids as, generally speaking, these can further disrupt the digestive imbalances associated with IBS.
Prolonging the cycle of flare ups and ultimately making your symptoms worse!
Also, do your homework and have a careful conversation with your doctor before starting any prescription medications to manage your IBS.
In many cases, some simple lifestyle changes accompanied by natural supplementation of herbals, nutrients, probiotics, enzymes, and fibres that are shown to support the compromised digestive system of an IBS sufferer can bring the cycle of flare ups under control.
And do it without the side effects commonly associated with many IBS prescriptions!
Remember, relief from your IBS will only come when you commit to some healthy lifestyle changes.
And seek to revitalize your complete digestive system by combating the common triggers like too much hydrochloric acid, hypersensitivity to stress, gut inflammation, unbalanced microflora, and more.
Article courtesy of the Digestive Science website
*This information is for educational purpose only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease