5 Root Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Do you think you should settle for a diagnosis of IBS and just deal with it?
I don’t think so.
The only thing an IBS diagnosis tells you is that you have digestive issues that haven’t been explained yet. Irritable Bowel Syndrome has been called by a variety of names indicating the cause of this problem has been elusive. Other names also referring to IBS are spastic colon, irritable colon, spastic colitis, and mucous colitis. It is a different condition than inflammatory bowel disease, and is unrelated to other bowel disorders. The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, cramping, gas, gloating, constipation, diarrhea, and combinations of these symptoms.
With testing and assessments that most conventionally trained doctors aren’t using, we can dig deep to uncover issues that may be contributing to the symptoms of IBS. Traditionally, most doctors are trained that the cause of IBS is unknown. Here are 5 common root causes underlying IBS to consider:
1. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Statistics are all over the map on this one, but the most recent data showed that about 35% of people diagnosed with IBS test positive for SIBO. That’s more than 1 in 3.
2. Gut Infections
Parasites, bacteria, or yeast infections can all disrupt gut health. A Mayo Clinic review found that 1 in 9 people who experience food poisoning go on to develop IBS.
3. Leaky Gut
‘Leaky gut’ (not a real medical term) means there’s a breakdown in the barrier of the intestinal lining. It’s linked with inflammation and gut issues.
4. Food Sensitivities
The most common foods to aggravate IBS are those high in fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs), but other foods can trigger problems in specific individuals.
The gut is undeniably linked to the brain (ever heard of the gut-brain axis?). IBS is commonly linked with anxiety, depression, and high stress.
Could more than one of these issues be going on at the same time?
To get a little more technical, let’s look at the DIGIN approach to IBS from a Functional Medicine approach.
D- Digestion and absorption abnormalities including inadequate chewing of food, low levels of stomach acid, pancreatic insufficiency, bile insufficiency, brush border injury to the intestinal lining, and intestinal barrier disruption.
I- Intestinal permeability issues triggered by stress, poor food choices, infections, imbalances in gut flora, toxins, medications, and insufficiencies of bile and the pancreas.
G- Gut microbiome alterations which may respond to probiotics and prebiotics.
I- Immune modulation/inflammation looking at food intolerances, food allergies, comprehensive stool analysis, and food elimination diets.
N- Nervous system, specifically the Enteric Nervous System and the gut-brain axis mentioned above.
Do we have natural approaches to address each of these underlying causes specifically and uniquely?
Functional medicine excels when it comes to making sense of and improving gut health. Coming soon I’ll be sharing diagnostic testing for IBS from a Functional Medicine approach as well as nutritional strategies to help support digestion and absorption.
If you want to get to the root cause of IBS or gut symptoms, I work with functional medicine doctors and we will get to the root of these issues and provide strategies designed to correct them for you. To get started, contact me and set aside about an hour for a phone call or video visit so we can get a clear picture of what you are dealing with in your health journey. Remember, everything in health (and life) is about balance and that is our goal in health coaching and functional medicine.
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Shah A, Talley NJ, Jones M et al. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Case-Control Studies. Am J Gastroenterol. 2020; 115: 190-201. [ link ]
Klem F, Wadhwa A, Prokop LJ et al. Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Outcomes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome After Infectious Enteritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Gastroenterology. 2017; 152: 1042-1054. [ link ]