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What is IBS, Actually?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a digestive condition that afflicts a staggering number of people in North America. In fact, it is the most common gastrointestinal disorder that represents 30-50% of all referrals to gastroenterologists.Despite how wide-spread the condition is, you might be surprised to discover how little is actually known about its causes and implications in traditional medicine.

If you’re someone who suffers from IBS, you know how debilitating it can be, but there are a few things you might not know about how the condition can affect you, and how to deal with its symptoms.

Common signs and symptoms of IBS are characterized by some combination of the following:

  • Abdominal pain or distension (bloating)
  • Altered bowel function, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Hyper secretion of mucus in the bowels
  • Gas, belching, nausea, or loss of weight
  • Varying degrees of anxiety or depression

Below I break it down for you - the root causes and effects of irritable bowel syndrome as we understand them, and some recommendations for treatment.

What do we know about the causes of IBS?

For decades, alternative medical practitioners have referred to the unofficial diagnosis of “leaky gut syndrome” to describe a combination of poor digestion, microflora imbalance, and inflammatory disease, which often leads to IBS symptoms.Dysbiosis, an imbalance in gut bacteria, can result from anything that alters the gut microbiota.The most common causes are antibiotics, oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, acid-suppressing medications, corticosteroids, gastrointestinal infections, surgery, poor digestion, chronic constipation, chronic stress, a high-sugar and refined carbohydrate diet and food allergies.

Food Allergies

The importance of food allergies in IBS has been recognized since the early 1990s.Later studies have further documented these findings.According to a double-blind challenge, approximately two-thirds of patients with IBS have at least one food intolerance, and most have multiple intolerances.Foods rich in carbohydrates, as well as fatty food, coffee, alcohol, and hot spices, are most frequently reported to cause symptoms.The most common allergens are dairy products (40-44%) and grains (40-60%).Many people notice a marked improvement with the use of elimination diets.

Small intestine bacterial overgrowth – SIBO

Sometimes the bacteria that are part of the normal flora in the large intestine are able to invade and set up shop in the small intestine.Because the bacteria do not belong in the small intestine, they can wreak havoc and cause many different digestive symptoms.SIBO is often involved in over half the cases of IBS and ridding this overgrowth of bacteria often leads to reduction in IBS symptoms.

Hydrogen/methane breath testing is the most widely used diagnostic method for this condition and is available through your health care practitioner.

Dietary FODMAPs

A group of short-chain carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and thus are likely to be fermented by intestinal bacterial, producing large amounts of gas that can cause abdominal bloating.These carbohydrates include fermented oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols(FODMAPs for short).Recent studies have identified these short-chain carbohydrates as important triggers of functional gut symptoms such as IBS.Open studies have suggested that three out of four people with IBS will see decrease in symptoms when they restrict their intake of FODMAPs.Low FODMAP guidelines are available online or through your health care provider.

What can we do about it?

IBS represents a health condition caused by many interrelated factors and therefore the best approach is often to address the following:

  • Increase dietary fibre
  • Eliminate foods to which there is an allergy or intolerance
  • Eliminate refined sugars
  • Reduce dietary FODMAPs
  • Treat dysbiosis – intestinal bacterial imbalance – rule out SIBO
  • Address the psychological components, especially stress
  • Seek out the guidance from your health care provider and find the cause!


Key Supplements to Consider

  • appear to be a key component in a comprehensive approach to treating IBS.
  • has been used for centuries as a remedy for nausea, indigestion, abdominal bloating, and many other GI symptoms.Studies have also confirmed the benefit of peppermint oil for IBS and spasms of the GI tract.
  • Antibacterial herbs could prove effective in the treatment of SIBO.Seek guidance from your health care provider.
  • all contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties to calm smooth muscle tissue when there is gastrointestinal spasming.


In Conclusion

While the name “IBS” might be a bit of a catch-all for serious digestive issues, the impacts of the condition are all too real for those who suffer from it. If you’re battling with poor digestive health, it can help to think broadly of all the possible factors - diet, stress and lifestyle included - and take action across the board.


Dr. Marita Schauch, Bsc, ND

Tall Tree Integrated Health Centre

5325 Cordova Bay Rd.

Mattick’s Farm

Victoria, BC V8Y 2L3