- Jenny Henderson, ND
You got an IBS diagnosis... now what?
A whole lot of people suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in this country. According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, 17% of Canadians have IBS, which is more than the global average of 11%. I suspect that the actual number is far higher, because these are the people who have been diagnosed, but it's not unreasonable to assume that many more are suffering with symptoms without diagnosis, some even believing that these symptoms are a 'normal' part of life.
It's not really 'normal' to feel bloated most days, or have indigestion, or not have at least one daily bowel movement, or random bouts of diarrhea. For some people the discomfort is somewhat mild, while for others, it has a major negative impact on their day-to-day lives. When that's the case, these people often see their family doctors and go through the standard investigations to rule out major illnesses, such as Celiac, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. When all the 'biggies' have been ruled out, and there's no other explanation, a patient gets the IBS diagnosis.
Well, fortunately, there are lots of options for you! Your family doctor may have recommended a few ways to start to manage the condition, but there are many factors at play here that contribute to how you feel, and we like to try and address them all.
In almost every case of IBS, there is some sort of food sensitivity involved that is causing an inflammatory reaction in the digestive tract. This is one of the most important things to figure out first. What happens is that certain food proteins cause your immune system to react to them and initiate an inflammatory reaction. This inflammation causes your symptoms. Get rid of the food sensitivities, and you'll significantly lower the inflammatory load in your gut and in your body as a whole. Frequent and common offenders are dairy and gluten, but anyone can have a sensitivity to almost any food.
Mental-emotional stress and gut health are intimately connected. You probably know this first hand, when you have a churning stomach, or heartburn, or diarrhea when you're feeling especially stressed or anxious. There is no shortage of stress in these troubled days, and the chronic daily nature of it is damaging to healthy digestive systems, let alone those with issues like IBS. Stress management is incredibly important to heal the gut and keep it happy. This could include some combination of mindfulness, meditation, exercise, self-care, adaptogenic herbs, time in nature, acupuncture, healthy boundaries, massage therapy, and more.
One very important aspect of healthy digestive systems is a balanced microbiome. The 'good' bacteria ought to be numerous, varied, and in the right place in your gut. If there are too few good guys, too many 'bad' bacteria, or if they're congregating in the wrong places, IBS symptoms can result. Balancing the bacterial flora with probiotics, and keeping the happy with prebiotics is very important, and one of the first lines of treatment for IBS.
Supportive herbs and nutrients
Also very helpful are specific herbs and nutrients which can support a healthy gut, and ease symptoms while some of the bigger therapies are being implemented. Ask your Naturopathic doctor about these. They can include, for example, L-glutamine, peppermint, ginger, slippery elm, chamomile, and many others. When we look at the whole person, and at all the symptoms that someone may present (not just digestive ones), we can customize a regimen that will suit their unique experience.
If you feel stuck, and would like some help with your digestive system, a good place to start is a free 15-min consult. I'd love to answer your questions.