If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) you are not alone. IBS affects up to 20% of Americans, the majority of them women. It is a condition that we see frequently at our NaturoMedica Clinic in Washington state since 40% of IBS sufferers turn to alternative medicine for treatment. If you have IBS you may be experiencing symptoms like abdominal pain, gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea. In addition to digestive symptoms, you may be experiencing fatigue, insomnia and anxiety. IBS symptoms can be mild or completely debilitating. Occasionally, we have seen IBS sufferers whose symptoms are so severe that they are missing work or school. Even in the best case scenario, IBS is a frustrating condition.
Before getting diagnosed with IBS, you may have gone through a series of tests to rule out other causes for your symptoms. For example, you may have had a colonoscopy, an endoscopy, or abdominal imaging. Conditions that can have similar symptoms to IBS include celiac disease, bacterial and parasitic infections, and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis. If you have symptoms of IBS it is important to see a physician so that other diseases that have similar clinical presentations can be ruled out. Once you have the official diagnosis of IBS, there is help.
One test that we find particularly helpful for our IBS patients is IgG food allergy and sensitivity testing. This is a blood test that looks for sensitivity to various foods. A typical test might look at over 100 foods. We find that many people suffering from IBS are having elevated immune responses to a large number of foods. These reactions are often delayed and cumulative, so it can be difficult to recognize the foods that are triggering reactions without doing the testing. For example, an IgG reaction can happen up to 72 hours after eating the offending food. Common food triggers include gluten, dairy, eggs, yeast and soy. We find that most IBS patients experience significant improvement in their IBS symptoms when they eliminate the reactive foods from their diets. Some patients experience complete remission when they avoid these foods and take supplements to improve their digestive health. Comprehensive stool testing is also beneficial for many people with IBS. The gastro-intestinal tract keeps a delicate balance between good and bad bacteria. When that balance is altered, you can experience a variety of symptoms, including those of IBS. Testing for Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) may also be beneficial. SIBO testing is a type of breath testing that captures methane and hydrogen gases which can signify bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. This overgrowth can also trigger digestive symptoms. Many IBS patients benefit from high dose probiotics (supplements that promote "good" bacteria). Stool testing helps determine what type probiotics, digestive enzymes or other types of supplements or medications are needed to change the intestinal landscape.
IBS patients may benefit from fiber, although the type of fiber used must be selected carefully. IBS patients tend to be especially sensitive to fiber, so it wise to start with a low dosage and gauge response before adjusting the dosage upward.
We also use formulas aimed at intestinal repair for our IBS patients. Formulas that are aimed at intestinal repair promote healing in the digestive tract and often allow our patients to eat foods that may have caused symptoms previously. IBS patients often are helped by changes in lifestyle, which may include instituting an exercise program or stress reduction strategies.
Above all else, if you suffer from IBS, realize that you have a treatable condition. It may take time to put the puzzle pieces together, but you can improve your digestive health.