Imagine having a condition with severe and debilitating symptoms, and then to have your doctor tell you that it is a functional or psychosomatic disease, and suggesting that it’s all in your head. If you or a family member has irritable bowel syndrome, you may understand exactly how frustrating this situation can be. And yet this is the case for many of the 39 million people in the United States with IBS. (1)
Throughout my practice as a physician I have worked with thousands of patients who have struggled with IBS, and helped them to lay out a plan to overcome it.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a chronic disorder that affects the large intestine and produces a number of symptoms including abdominal pain and abnormal bowel motility such as diarrhea, constipation or sometimes both. Although IBS is a chronic condition, most patients I have worked with showed only moderate symptoms that could be kept under control with a well-managed diet, lowered stress level, and a healthy lifestyle. Those with severe symptoms of IBS may need additional medication and counseling in order to fully manage the symptoms. (1, 2)
IBS occurs most commonly in those under the age of 50, and is more common in women than men. The chances of IBS are also higher for those with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, or if you have someone in your family who has suffered from IBS. (2)
The reason that IBS is sometimes referred to as a functional disorder (or functional gastrointestinal disorder) is because it is related to how your gut and your brain work together. If the gut-brain interaction isn’t running as smoothly as it should be, this can cause your gut to be more sensitive and change how the muscles in your bowel contract. This can then lead to the symptoms I mentioned before, such as constipation and diarrhea. (1)
IBS generally does not include any visible signs of damage or disease in your digestive tract, and doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer. It is a chronic disease however, which means you will generally need to learn to manage it long term. Although it may seem daunting at first, I have helped many patients manage this condition using the steps I have listed below. (2)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
Abdominal pain. You may experience cramping or bloating, or the feeling that you haven’t quite finished a bowel movement. (3)
Excess gas. IBS may cause excessive gas, which can also lead to a feeling of being bloated. (4)
Diarrhea. IBS can cause diarrhea and sudden urges to have a bowel movement. (1)
Constipation. IBS can cause constipation, or hard and lumpy stools and straining during bowel movements. (1)
Mucus in the stool. If you suffer from IBS you may find a whitish mucus in your stool. (3)
Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Curable?
Unfortunately, IBS is a chronic condition without a definitive cure. However, throughout my practice, I have found that there are many different and successful ways to treat IBS so that it is no longer debilitating. I have worked closely with my patients and found the lifestyle changes, diets, medicines, including probiotics that worked best for them.
Are IBS and IBD The Same Thing?
Although both IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) can have similar symptoms, there are not the same thing.
Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition where part of the digestive tract becomes inflamed. This disease can include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Irritable bowel syndrome is also a chronic disorder, but one that does not have inflammation in the GI tract. (5)
Are IBS And Leaky Gut The Same Thing?
IBS and leaky gut (or intestinal permeability) are separate conditions. Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestines has large cracks or holes which allow partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to be released and penetrate the tissues beneath it. Although IBS and leaky gut are different from one another, those with leaky gut may be prone to IBS, and visa versa. (6, 7)
7 Step Plan To Heal Irritable Bowel Syndrome
As can be expected, I have found that many patients feel embarrassed to talk to me or other medical professionals about IBS and the symptoms involved. In fact, fewer than one in five people with symptoms of IBS even seek medical help despite the debilitating symptoms. (8)
Although talking about IBS may be uncomfortable, it is important to do so in order to ensure that you are getting the correct type of treatment. You are not alone in your digestive struggles, and you don’t have to live with these symptoms. I have helped thousands of patients find relief even after decades of suffering from IBS by simply following the steps below.
Step One: Get Diagnosed
Most adults will experience constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain from time to time, and some more frequently than others. As there can be many causes for these symptoms, the first step I suggest you take if you suspect you have IBS is to visit your doctor and get a firm diagnosis. That way you can be certain of your specific condition and know exactly how to move forward in the healing process.
When patients come to me for this type of diagnosis I will first review their symptoms and medical and family history and perform a physical exam. Some cases may require additional testing such as endoscopy in order to rule out other health problems such as IBD, celiac disease, or colon cancer.
Step Two: Temporarily Remove Any Processed/Inflammatory Foods From Your Diet
Once a patient has been diagnosed I will review with them dieting strategies to improve their condition. Because IBS involves the digestive system diet is an extremely important factor.
Throughout my practice I have found that some triggers for IBS can be processed and inflammatory foods. I encourage my patients to focus on removing these foods from their diet first to see if their symptoms improve.
Some examples of processed and inflammatory foods to avoid are foods with refined flour such as white bread and pastries, fried foods such as french fries, red meats and processed meats, and soda and other sugary beverages. For some patients removing dairy and gluten from their diet can be helpful as well. (9)
This step is often the most challenging for my patients, but it is also the most beneficial and important. The American lifestyle has thrown whole foods out the window and replaced them with freezer meals, packaged foods, artificial ingredients, and fast foods, and I realize the difficulty in sifting through all of this in order to eat right.
But you won’t have to avoid these types of foods indefinitely. Once you can get your gut back in good health you can slowly, and in moderation, add these foods back into your diet. I often recommended the 80/20 rule. 80 percent healthy foods, and 20 percent less healthy foods. This way you can ensure that you are eating the wholesome foods that your body needs, while you still get the occasional treat. The key is moderation and balance.
Step Three: Consume Gut-Healing Foods Daily
Along with avoiding certain foods, the next step is to consciously add foods into your diet that will help heal the gut. It’s amazing the wonders that a wholesome diet of natural, real foods can do. In addition to a whole food diet, here are some foods that will go the extra mile when it comes to your digestive system.
Fresh vegetable juice
Clean lean protein
Step Four: Remove Unwanted Bacteria
The next step to managing IBS is to remove the unwanted bacteria from your gut. As bacterial overgrowth can cause bloating and IBS, with my patients I will often prescribe certain medications that can combat this. 200 mg of rifaximin (Xifaxin) three times a day for 7 to 10 days can do the trick. Talk with your doctor to find the right method for you.
Step Five: Replenish Your Microbiome
Your microbiome is located in your gut and other parts of your body. When your microbiome is balanced your gut health improves along with your mood and energy. To help my patients replenish their microbiome I suggest eating fermented foods daily.
Some of the best fermented foods are:
If you are not able to eat many fermented foods, a probiotic supplement is the next best option. Take a high-quality probiotic 1-2 times daily for at least 100 days.
Step Six: Take Digestive Enzymes With Meals
The next thing I recommend to patients is to try taking digestive enzymes along with each meal. Sometimes your body just needs a little extra help breaking down your food. In all reality, your body doesn’t absorb food at all, it absorbs nutrients. This is why your food has to be completely broken down before your body can get anything useful out of it. Some people just need a little boost in the digestive process to make sure that their food is being processed and broken down completely.
Step Seven: Healing Supplements & Remedies
L-glutamine powder: L-glutamine is an amino acid found in protein rich foods, and is great for helping treat IBS. (10)
Aloe vera juice: Aloe vera can help sooth and heal the digestive tract and improve vowel regularity. (11)
Fish oil: Fish oil can help to reduce gut inflammation (12)
Slippery elm: Slippery elm can help heal irritated digestive tract tissues. (13)
Ginger: Ginger root helps to relieve nausea and cramps associated with diarrhea. It also can help with inflammation and abdominal pain. (14)
Frequently Asked Questions About IBS
Q. Will irritable bowel syndrome show up on a colonoscopy?
A. No. A colonoscopy is used to check for irritated and swollen tissue, ulcers, polyps, and cancer. Since IBS often does not show any visible signs of tissue damage, a colonoscopy is typically not required to diagnose IBS. However, a colonoscopy may be needed to exclude other diseases.
Q. Is irritable bowel syndrome hereditary?
A. Yes. It can be. Those who have a family history of IBS are more likely to have IBS themselves.
Q. Where does irritable bowel syndrome cause pain?
A. The most common area for pain with IBS is in the abdomen. Many suffer from cramping or abdominal pain. Due to constipation, diarrhea, and gas, many people with IBS report pain in the belly.
Q. Is irritable bowel syndrome a disability?
A. No. Athough IBS can be debilitating in severe cases, it is more often a condition that can be managed with certain lifestyle changes, medications, and counseling.
Q. Is irritable bowel syndrome contagious?
A. No. IBS is not contagious. It is a chronic condition that cannot be transmitted through physical contact, ingestion, or penetration.
Q. Can irritable bowel syndrome cause back pain?
A. No. IBS can cause pain in the abdomen or in the belly due to constipation, diarrhea, or gas. If you are experiencing back pain along with these symptoms it is likely that the two are unrelated.
Q. Can IBS cause chest pain?
A. No. IBS is related to pain in the gut and abdomen due to constipation, diarrhea, or gas. If you are experiencing chest pain along with these symptoms, it is likely that the two are unrelated.
Q. Will IBS lead to cancer?
A. No. Although IBS can be distressing, the condition has not been known to lead to cancer. bloat
Q. Why IBS causes bloating?
A. IBS often causes bloating. This can be due to excessive gas, or abnormally long muscle contractions in the intestines. (2, 4)
Keeping your diet wholesome and healthy, removing unwanted bacteria, and finding the right remedies for you are all key players when it comes to keeping your IBS manageable and under control.
Irritable bowel syndrome can be an uncomfortable and frustrating condition to deal with throughout a lifetime, but the good news is that there are many different treatments, remedies, foods, and lifestyle changes that can help you keep your symptoms under control and allow you to live your life the way you want to live it.