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IBS: When you really should listen to your gut

April is IBS awareness month, so I thought I would share with you some things about what IBS is and how I approach helping patients with this less than ideal diagnosis.

First, what is IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Well, it’s kind of a diagnosis you get when the docs have ruled out all the other “serious” stuff like IBD (Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis), cancers, infections, etc. That’s what the “syndrome” means, is that it’s a set of symptoms that don’t necessarily fall under the disease category because they don’t know the exact pathology of what is going on. But if you or someone you know have been diagnosed with IBS, you know that what you experience everyday still seriously decreased your quality of life.

Some common symptoms are:

-Alternating or constant constipation and diarrhea

-Abdominal pain/cramping

-Abdominal bloating

-Feeling better after stool is passed, and noticing the stool looks different at times.

-Symptoms can be triggered by certain foods/at meal time, or stress

Also, it is VERY common. IBS accounts for 25 to 50 percent of all referrals to gastroenterologists. That’s pretty crazy if you ask me, but if you look at the symptoms above, haven’t we all experienced these things time to time? The difference is, people diagnosed with IBS experience these frequently, at least 1 day/week and usually much more.

So why do people get IBS and what is my approach to treatment?

It still remains unknown the exact cause of IBS, but a number of factors have been researched and been found to correlate.

GI Motility and sensitivity: In other words, how well the intestines are moving food through them and how we are feeling the sensations. The nerves that make the GI move and feel sensations will be the main culprits here, and our emotions and stress levels can have a huge impact on how our nervous system is sending messaged to our GI.

  • My approach: Always asses your life for stressors and how you are dealing with them. If we are living in a state of constant stress, our digestive system is not given the time to properly “rest and digest”, thus the issues with motility. Putting into place practices such as mindfulness, meditation, self-care “time outs”, is very important. Interestingly, it’s found that more woman with a history of physical and/or sexual abuse seem to experience IBS, as well as other chronic pain diseases like Fibromyalgia. Digging into the past and seeking closure with some difficult memories may also be part of one’s treatment plan and a great time for co-management with a qualified counselor.

Inflammation: When looking at the state of the digestive track, it has been found that IBS patients are more likely to have signs of inflammation, such as an increase in activated immune cells.

  • My approach: By removing all triggers and causes of inflammation (the root causes), decreasing inflammation will be a happy side effect of the treatment. Figuring out the triggers is the journey and may involve specific stool, saliva, blood, or breath testing, following an elimination diet or specific nutrition plan, as well as feedback from what treatments are helping.

Dysbiosis: This terms means that the gut flora, all those good and bad bugs in our GI, are not in correct proportions to each other. Maybe there are pathogens that should not even be there or are in the wrong place (SIBO) and need to be eradicated. Maybe there is a yeast overgrowth. Whatever the specific dysbiosis in the patient, it is important to find it and treat it.

  • My approach: Supporting a healthy microbiome is always at the epicenter of my treatment plans and starts with a healthy diet that feeds the bugs what they want, and doesn’t feed the bad bugs what they want. Depending on the case, sometimes we need to put into action an eradication plan with a set of herbs, nutrients and diet. Other times just focusing on a healthy diet and adding in a great probiotic will cause relief.

More approaches:

As each case is unique, there is much more to the picture, but above is the general approach for most. Most people will need diet tweaking including adequate fiber and water intake, may need additional support with herbs/nutrients to help with cramping, bloating, and digestion, and everyone should make sure they are exercising and have other Foundations of health in place.

So I hope you are more aware of what IBS is now and if this sounds like something you struggle with, start with the basics mentioned above and call me for a free 15min consult 303-679-3402 or e-mail

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