Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Perspectives of a Naturopathic Doctor
By Rahim Habib ND – Naturopathic Doctor
“I suffered for years to the point I was afraid to eat, most foods made me sick and caused a lot of pain.” “I get excruciating tummy pain, sometimes vomiting, and diarrhea…I’ve spent hours curled up on the bathroom floor, waiting for relief!” “I’ve lost my confidence to go outside, I’m afraid I’ll have diarrhea at any time, there’s no warning!”
These are the experiences of some who suffer from a digestive disorder called Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. In this article I’ll mention the main types of IBS, what causes IBS and related research, and nature-based treatment solutions that can help control or resolve this challenging illness.
Types and Causes of IBS
People with this illness get significant abdominal pain or discomfort that can come and go, along with a change in their stool quality and frequency. There are three general types of IBS- one with mostly diarrhea, another with primarily constipation, and lastly a form where there is an alternation of diarrhea and constipation. Often the person with IBS experiences a lot of bloating and passing of gas. Other associated symptoms can also occur including anxiety, depression, headaches, fatigue, poor concentration and memory, and muscle and joint pains.
A big question in the minds of IBS patients is how did this start, and of course, how can I get rid of this terrible problem? There are many factors involved. For example, for some of these people, the IBS symptoms began after a bad intestinal infection, or after a significant amount of stress, including stress from childhood.
Researchers from Kings College London found clues to the cause in the intestine itself. They discovered that the bacteria living in the intestines of IBS-sufferers had abnormal amounts of certain bacteria, and not enough of other naturally existing types of bacteria. Other research has shown that some of the waste material from bacteria in the intestines has been correlated to associated symptoms of IBS including severe headaches, fatigue, and joint pain.
Many research studies point to the importance of the connections between the immune system, intestinal nerve sensitivity, and the mind. Research published in the 2011 issue of Neurogastroenterology & Gut Motility found that there is low grade inflammation present along the intestinal lining. Some people with IBS have more delicate digestion – a type of nerve hypersensitivity where even small amounts of gas or pressure produced inside their intestines can trigger pain and discomfort. Researchers at St. Mary’s Hospital in London found that certain immune cells are very numerous in the intestinal lining of IBS sufferers, and that this correlates to IBS symptoms such as intestinal muscle spasm and intestinal nerve hypersensitivity. Some people with the most severe types of IBS also had lower vitamins, especially vitamin B6, an important vitamin for proper nerve function, and mental health.
There is quite a lot of research in the study of irritable bowel disease – it’s not surprising since it is estimated that over 10% of the general population has IBS symptoms. From the perspective of a naturopathic doctor, I have outlined some treatment suggestions below.
Naturopathic Treatment of IBS
It would be useful to work with a naturopath or nutritionist or dietitian to determine if there are specific foods that irritate digestion. Simple foods to try avoiding include dairy, beans, nuts, caffeine, and cabbage-family vegetables. Many other foods could also trigger symptoms of IBS, so it is important to be very dedicated in your attempt to eliminate specific foods completely from your diet, and for sufficient duration. Some teas can also be taken that help calm intestinal cramping, these include peppermint, caraway, ginger, and chamomile. Consider trying one or a combination of these teas to see what level of benefit you can get.
This can include simple relaxation exercises such as calm, easy and deep breathing, hypnosis, or meditation practice. However, a very powerful way to integrate the mind in healing is to do a ‘mind-body session’ – to determine any connections between past/current stressors, your active symptoms, and then learn how to influence these connections to help resolve the problem. Get a mind-body session with a trained naturopath or psychologist.
Targeted Supplements & Other Treatments
Because each person with IBS is affected in their own way, and have their own combination of factors and causes, it is ideal to perform digestive function tests and nutritional tests to determine specific supplement needs. After testing, it may be that a digestive enzyme supplement, or a vitamin or mineral may be useful. In addition, finding the right fiber supplement can be very helpful at regulating your bowel patterns; some examples include ground flaxseed or psyllium. In most cases, ‘probiotic,’ or healthy bacteria supplements can be helpful at balancing the frequency of bowel movements, balancing intestinal immunity, and even helping reduce abdominal pain.
Other naturopathic treatments that can be helpful include acupuncture (reduces diarrhea/ constipation, and reduced pain), colon hydrotherapy (treats constipation, clears toxic by-products of imbalanced bacteria, and clears mucus), and herbal extracts (can reduce spasm, reduce intestinal parasites and yeast, and improve intestinal motility).
In summary, there are many factors involved in what will cause irritable bowel symptoms in any given person. However, from the perspective of a naturopathic doctor, with in-depth testing and spending time exploring and modifying mind-body connections, and with some targeted supplements and dietary changes, people who suffer from IBS can dramatically improve their symptoms and illness overall.
Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor who has a general family practice, with a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxify their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s learning and behavioural health, and chronic conditions in adults. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.