What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?


IBS is short for irritable bowel syndrome which is a very common digestive disorder that is prevalent in one-in-five adults. IBS usually causes abdominal pain, constipation and/or diarrhea, bloating, gas, nausea, discomfort, lack of appetite, anxiety and painful bowel movements.

Those who suffer from IBS may consider themselves to have a nervous stomach. IBS symptoms are similar to those of Chron’s disease and lactose intolerance, so it is important to get evaluated if you have symptoms.


What causes IBS? 

Everyone who suffers from IBS experiences the disorder differently. Known factors that play a role in IBS include food sensitivities, poor nutrition, not enough exercise, stress, insufficient amounts of stomach acid and bacteria imbalances. Muscle contractions are also a very common cause.

These contractions in the intestine occur as food moves through the digestive tract. If someone experiences stronger and longer contractions in their intestine, it can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea. Or if someone has weak intestinal contractions, it can cause slow food passage which results in dry and hard stools. Abnormal nerves in the digestive system can also play a factor. The signals between the brain and intestines can disrupt the digestive process which results in either diarrhea or constipation.

Someone with IBS might have different microflora than someone without it. Microflora is considered to be the good bacteria in someone’s intestines. Changes in these bacteria can result in IBS. Genes also play a massive role in determining the cause of someone’s IBS.


Can a Naturopath Help with IBS? 

Naturopaths can support patients who suffer from IBS. First off, because everyone experiences this digestive disorder differently, a naturopath will work with a patient to establish a customized meal plan. To do this, the naturopath will help them identify certain foods that may cause their symptoms to act up. After investigating their intolerances and sensitivities, the customized meal plan should include all types of nutrients to ensure they are not lacking a specific type of macro or micronutrient while on their new diet.

Lots of naturopaths will include herbal medicines into their patients plans to help relieve the symptoms of constipation or diarrhea, depending on what the client suffers from. Lots of herbal medicines will promote antimicrobial action and when consumed with probiotics, will ensure healthy gut micro flora, something that is altered in many IBS cases.

When someone is suffering from IBS, they may suffer from an inflamed gut lining. This inflammation is usually painful so your naturopath may provide anti-inflammatory medicines to get it under control. A naturopathic approach towards treating IBS will also include supporting the nervous system.

The brain and digestive tract need to have a good relationship in order to successfully reduce symptoms of IBS. When someone is feeling stressed or depressed, their gut may become nervous. For many, this results in diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation and more. Luckily, herbal medicines can help the nervous system while decreasing the pain it causes.


What Types of Treatments do Naturopaths Use for Patients with IBS? 

A common treatment for IBS includes the use of probiotics because they can help correct a client’s microbiome which is a common cause for IBS. Useful probiotic supplements will contain lactobacillus and bifido-bacteria. Psyllium powder can also be used in a patient’s diet for added fibre.

This is the active ingredient found in Metamucil which can relieve symptoms of IBS. Someone suffering from diarrhea may use psyllium powder to form a bowel movement while someone who is constipated may use psyllium powder to move their bowels around.

Peppermint and caraway are also popular natural medicines used to treat IBS. Peppermint oil is a very common herbal remedy which has been used for hundreds of years that alleviates gas and bloating while reducing abdominal pain. Iberogast is also a useful formula which contains an abundance of plant extracts which help relieve pain from IBS.

Once a patient’s customized meal plan is established, a naturopath will also want to identify how they manage stress while looking at underlying factors such as smoking and alcohol intake. In addition to nutritional supplements and herbal medicines, a naturopath may consider acupuncture, meditation, nutritional counseling, homeopathy, exercise recommendations, reflexology, massage therapy, Bowen therapy and neuroplastic massage when creating a plan for someone with IBS.

Why choose a naturopathic approach for fighting IBS? 

It is difficult to determine a definitive cause of IBS which is why conventional medication might not work for lots who suffer from it. Medications for IBS will address the symptoms of the disorder, but they don’t focus on the root cause like naturopathic medicine does.

Using a combination of approaches in a patient’s plan can help manage the condition long-term.  Some patients may choose to take conventional medications in addition to natural remedies. Other patients who suffer from IBS might not get any benefits from conventional medicines or they may have bad side effects.

A naturopath goes beyond the focus of gut function and diet when treating someone with IBS. The extensive approach focuses on improving one’s overall lifestyle by looking at a patient’s relationship with food and stress management.

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