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Over 60 million Americans suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This condition can devastate a person’s quality of life. The frustration of not knowing what to eat or running to the bathroom often leads people to seek a holistic approach to soothe symptoms and promote digestive health long term. Here, we’ll cover some factors behind IBS and The Wellness Way Approach to supporting your body so it can regain balance. 

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome. It’s a common digestive disorder that affects the stomach and intestines. It’s a chronic condition that can cause painful and embarrassing symptoms that interrupt daily life. These may include abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. [1] 

There are three main types of IBS based on the movement of food through the digestive tract. If it’s slowed down, it’s considered constipation-dominant; if it’s sped up, it’s diarrhea-dominant. It can also be a mix of the two or unspecified: [2] 

  1. IBS with Constipation (IBS-C): This type of IBS is characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort and constipation. 
  2. IBS with Diarrhea (IBS-D): This type is characterized by frequent loose or watery stools. 
  3. Mixed IBS (IBS-M): People with this type of IBS experience alternating constipation and diarrhea. 
  4. Un-subtyped IBS (IBS-U): When symptoms don’t fit clearly into any specific category. 

IBS is different from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), although some people have both. IBD is an umbrella term for more serious digestive conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). A syndrome is a collection of symptoms rather than a disease process. IBD may require hospitalization when the inflammation spirals out of control. IBS, on the other hand, is usually addressed through outpatient care.  

Symptoms of IBS

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can vary widely from person to person, and they can also fluctuate over time. Common IBS symptoms include: [1][2]

  • Gas and bloating 
  • Cramping 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Changes in bowel habits 
  • Incomplete bowel movement
  • Increased mucus in the stool 
  • Disrupted sleep and fatigue

Some IBS patients may also have “functional dyspepsia” or indigestion, which may involve heartburn, nausea, belching, and burning in the upper abdomen. It may also cause a person to feel full quickly after eating just a small amount of food. [3]

How is IBS Diagnosed?

Diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) involves a combination of medical history, symptom evaluation, and exclusion of other conditions. There isn’t a specific test for IBS, so doctors typically use certain criteria and a process of elimination to reach a diagnosis. Here are the key steps involved: [4] 

  • Medical History and Symptom Assessment: The doctor will ask about your symptoms, frequency, duration, and characteristics. They might use the Rome criteria, which outlines specific symptoms to help diagnose IBS. 
  • Physical Examination: This is to check for physical signs and rule out other conditions that might present with similar symptoms. 
  • Diagnostic Tests: Tests help rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms. These may include blood tests, stool tests, imaging tests like colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or other tests the doctor decides are necessary. 
  • Meeting Specific Criteria: IBS diagnosis relies on specific criteria, including recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort for at least three days per month in the last three months, associated with two or more of the following: improvement with defecation, onset associated with a change in frequency of stool, or onset associated with a change in the appearance of the stool.

It’s crucial to understand that a doctor will settle on an IBS diagnosis after ruling out other conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, or other gastrointestinal issues.

The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare

At The Wellness Way, we talk about the current medical system’s perspective on healthcare versus our perspective, as the “fireman approach” versus the “carpenter approach.”    

      

The current medical system’s “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) to take care of people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out during a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish the “flames”: inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.   

Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters: They assess the body’s current state with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are some common natural therapies that support the body in healing.   

While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in supporting the healing process.   

The Current Medical System’s Approach to IBS

Our current form of healthcare views IBS as a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract that primarily affects how the intestines work. It’s recognized as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, meaning there’s no structural abnormality or visible damage to the digestive system, yet it causes significant discomfort and distress. 

Common Medications For IBS

Treatment for IBS often involves dietary changes, stress reduction, lifestyle modifications, and medications to alleviate specific symptoms. Here are some often prescribed medications for IBS: [5] 

  • Antidiarrheal medications: For diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D), medications like loperamide (Imodium) may be recommended to control diarrhea and decrease stool frequency. 
  • Fiber supplements: For those with constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C), doctors may recommend fiber supplements like psyllium (Metamucil) to help regulate bowel movements and ease constipation. 
  • Laxatives: Medications like lubiprostone (Amitiza) or linaclotide (Linzess) can be prescribed to regulate bowel movements by increasing fluid secretion in the intestines or by affecting gut motility.   
  • Antispasmodic medications: These medications, such as hyoscyamine (Levsin) or dicyclomine (Bentyl), help relax the muscles in the intestines, reducing cramping and abdominal pain. 
  • Low-dose antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) like amitriptyline or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft) might be prescribed to help alleviate abdominal pain and regulate bowel movements by affecting the nervous system in the gut. 
  • Mast cell stabilizers: Mast cells are immune cells associated with allergies that are now known to be involved in IBS. [6] Mast cell stabilizer medications used for IBS include cromolyn sodium (Gastrocrom) and ketotifen (Zaditor). 

These medications may calm the nervous system or suppress the inflammatory response, so they may help with symptoms. However, they all have harmful side effects; hence, the interest in natural remedies and home remedies for IBS. 

What Causes IBS? Trauma, Toxins, & Thoughts

While our current form of healthcare admits certain infections may contribute to IBS, the medical field rarely considers natural treatments. At The Wellness Way, we know there are almost always several contributing factors to any dis-ease. Addressing them naturally can allow the body to heal itself. The three categories of contributing factors, as delineated by the chiropractic field, are Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts. 

Traumas (Physical Stressors)

Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the small intestine, leading to dis-ease there. Other potential traumas that could trigger IBS include: 

  • Poor posture 
  • Concussions 
  • Physical abuse   
  • Sexual assault/rape   
  • Car accidents   
  • Severe illness or infection   
  • Having a baby
  • Surgery  

Physical traumas and the potential of chiropractic care should not be underestimated when it comes to IBS. Researchers have found that chiropractic care and spinal manipulation can help to calm the nervous system, taking the body out of fight-or-flight and allowing it to heal. [7] Traumas are made worse when coupled with toxic exposures. 

Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)

Toxins are biochemical stressors that may be either natural or synthetic. Toxins that may contribute to a stressed-out nervous system and IBS may include: 

  • Dysbiosis – An imbalance in beneficial gut bacteria versus more detrimental strains is a major contributor to IBS. [8 
  • Antibiotics – Several studies have found that IBS can be a side effect of antibiotic treatment, as antibiotics can throw off the balance of the gut microbiome. [9] 
  • Gut infections – Bacterial infections and parasites may also contribute to IBS. Even one infection can set off chronic IBS. [10] Blastocystis hominus and Giardia are two potential culprits behind “post-infectious IBS.” [11][12] 
  • Excess sugar – Continuing to eat ultra-processed food, high in sugar and carbohydrates, contributes to inflammation, gut dysbiosis, and related digestive conditions like IBS. [13] 
  • Food allergies – Eating foods that create an allergic response is much like eating toxins. A 2015 review of over 73 studies “confirmed that food allergy and intolerance should be considered as an underlying pathology for IBS.” [14] 

Keep in mind that most infections are opportunistic, meaning they are more likely to occur if the body is already compromised. Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress. 

Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)

Emotional stress is a significant contributor to IBS as it causes the nervous system to stay in a state of fight-or-flight. Emotional stress can come from the following: 

  • Relationship issues – Relationships can turn toxic, leading to chronic stress. Prolonged stress can lead to dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which can, in turn, affect digestion.  
  • Financial stress – Financial struggles can lead to dysbiosis and chronic inflammation due to the long-term effects of stress and cortisol.  
  • Watching the news – The mainstream media rarely focuses on the positive. Regularly exposing yourself to bad news increases fear, worry, and overall stress, setting off the nervous system.  
  • Feeling overwhelmed – Stress from significant life changes, like a recent marriage, a new baby, graduation, a divorce, or even moving to a new city, can lead to gut dysbiosis and an increased susceptibility to IBS.  
  • Holding a grudge/pent-up anger – Holding a grudge creates stress in the body and may cause gut imbalances.   
  • A death in the family or a close friend – Grief is another form of stress that may create imbalances in the nervous system and gut.
  • Military combat – PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) or PTSD from other causes can create a chronic sense of fight-or-flight in the body, creating digestive issues.
  • Witnessing violence or a natural disaster – Being a witness to a mass shooting, murder, accident, or natural disaster is another potential cause of PTSD that may create chronic digestive imbalances. 

The Wellness Way Approach to IBS

At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We start with testing to see where there may be imbalances and then develop a personalized nutrition and supplement plan to help your body heal itself. 

Important Tests for Assessing Your Gut and Immune Health:

With irritable bowel syndrome, it’s critical to lower inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and then find out what’s happening with the gut microbiome. Determining which foods are triggering the immune response and cutting them out is one of the most critical ways to allow the gut to heal. 

Here are some commonly recommended tests at The Wellness Way:  

Your testing strategy will depend on which ones your Wellness Way clinic considers most important for your health history and symptoms. 

Dietary Changes for Those with IBS

First and foremost, we must lower inflammation so the gut can heal, and the nervous system can calm down. That means avoiding your food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as recommended by your Wellness Way clinic. Following are some additional guidelines for inflammatory conditions and digestive issues: 

  • Reduce sugar and processed foods – Both increase inflammation. [13] 
  • Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation throughout the body. A gluten-free diet was shown to improve symptoms in some patients with IBS, according to a 2022 randomized controlled trial. [15]  
  • No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated. In fact, they may even be beneficial for lowering inflammation in the gut, which makes up a large part of the immune response. [16] 
  • Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory. [17] Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil; or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat. 
  • Avoid alcohol – Alcohol compromises the intestinal lining, increases inflammation, and alters the bacterial balance, causing dysbiosis. [18] 
  • Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods – This helps to supply nutrients, antioxidants, and food for a healthy gut microbiome. A Mediterranean diet, for example, improved symptoms of IBS in children and adolescents with IBS. [19][20] 
  • Try a Low FODMAP diet – For some people, following a diet low in certain types of carbohydrates can help. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. These compounds are found in foods like wheat, legumes, fruit, and dairy products and include things like fructose, lactose, and sugar alcohols, among others. [21][22 
  • Eat omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3s and help lower inflammation. [23 
  • Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.  
  • Add specific nutrient-dense foods: Add Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for enhanced nutrition. Liver is nature’s multivitamin, according to Dr. Patrick Flynn.  
  • Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables, and other foods rich in phytochemicals helps keep inflammation under control. They also support a healthy microbiome. [24][25] 

Diet is paramount, but supplements can help the body heal the digestive tract.   

Supplements For Supporting Gut Health

Every patient is different, but some herbal remedies used at The Wellness Way for those struggling with digestive imbalances are the following:

  • Albizia – Albizia herb has a strong anti-inflammatory effect, which may be helpful for IBS. [26]  
  • Slippery Elm – An herbal formula including slippery elm improved symptoms in a study of digestive disorders. By the end of the study, a third of the participants were able to re-introduce high FODMAP foods without problems. [27] 
  • Licorice – Licorice root is often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to support healthy digestion. Herbal formulations with licorice may be helpful for IBS and other functional GI disorders. [28 
  • Chamomile – Chamomile reduces inflammation and supports normal intestinal function in IBS. [29] 
  • Enzymes – Digestive enzymes, like those contained in Well-Zymes, can support digestion, potentially reducing symptoms of gas and bloating. [30] 
  • Aloe vera gel – The gel inside the aloe leaf soothes the gut lining, promotes healing, and may be helpful for IBS-D. [31] 
  • Peppermint oil – Peppermint oil capsules are recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology for IBS-C. [32][33]
  • Probiotics – According to a meta-analysis, probiotics like lactobacillus species may be helpful for IBS treatment. However, researchers aren’t certain which species and strains would be most helpful for which types of IBS. [34] A gut health test may help guide doctors and health coaches in knowing where to start. Megabiotic Formula has several lactobacillus species. CY Complex features Saccharomyces boulardii, which is shown to be effective against the Blastocystis hominus infection mentioned earlier. [35]

Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies to Support Those with IBS 

  • Physical activity Regular exercise has been shown to promote improvement in IBS symptoms according to a 2022 Cochrane review. [36] 
  • Regular chiropractic care – Chiropractic care helps to improve blood flow and nerve flow while decreasing overall physical stress on the body. It also supports balance in the autonomic nervous system, which we know can be a part of IBS. [37] 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) CBT is a structured form of talk therapy that focuses on thoughts, feelings, and behavior to alleviate symptoms A randomized controlled trial published in 2021 found that CBT improved symptoms of IBS by supporting the gut-brain axis. [38] 
  • Acupuncture Acupuncture has a beneficial effect on gut dysbiosis, intestinal barrier function, gut hypersensitivity, movement of food through the gut, and pain. [39] 

Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about IBS and other digestive conditions. 

Educational Resources For IBS

Videos & Webinars Related to IBS

Leaky Gut | A Different Perspective | Episode 117
Constipation | A Different Perspective | Episode 127
Inflammatory Bowel Disease | A Different Perspective | Episode 40

Articles to Support Those With IBS

Poop Check: What Number 2 is Telling YOU
What Causes Leaky Gut and How Can You Heal It?
6 Most Common Digestive Issues That May Require a Doctor’s Consultation
SIBO and Weight Gain: Are You “Just Getting Older” or is SIBO to Blame?
The Gut-Brain Connection: What Most People Don’t Realize About Mental Health

CONNECT WITH US!  

We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get cutting-edge training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. Reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today to get thorough testing and start on your health journey. We are here to help!  

References

  1. Irritable bowel syndrome – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic 
  2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) | Johns Hopkins Medicine 
  3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Functional Dyspepsia: Different Diseases or a Single Disorder With Different Manifestations? – PMC (nih.gov) 
  4. Rome Criteria and a Diagnostic Approach to Irritable Bowel Syndrome – PMC (nih.gov) 
  5. Irritable bowel syndrome – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic 
  6. The Emerging Role of Mast Cells in Irritable Bowel Syndrome – PMC (nih.gov) 
  7. Neurobiological basis of chiropractic manipulative treatment of the spine in the care of major depression – PMC (nih.gov) 
  8. Alterations in composition and diversity of the intestinal microbiota in patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  9. Antibiotics, gut microbiota, and irritable bowel syndrome: What are the relations? – PMC (nih.gov) 
  10. Evidence for long-term sensitization of the bowel in patients with post-infectious-IBS – PMC (nih.gov) 
  11. Comparison of methods for detection of Blastocystis infection in routinely submitted stool samples, and also in IBS/IBD Patients in Ankara, Turkey – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  12. Irritable bowel syndrome: a review on the role of intestinal protozoa and the importance of their detection and diagnosis – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  13. Diet-microbiota interaction in irritable bowel syndrome: looking beyond the low-FODMAP approach – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  14. Food allergy in irritable bowel syndrome: The case of non-celiac wheat sensitivity – PMC (nih.gov) 
  15. Randomised controlled trial: effects of gluten-free diet on symptoms and the gut microenvironment in irritable bowel syndrome – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  16. In vitro evaluation of immunomodulatory activities of goat milk Extracellular Vesicles (mEVs) in a model of gut inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  17. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  18. Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation – PMC (nih.gov) 
  19. A Very Low-carbohydrate Diet Improves Symptoms and Quality of Life in Diarrhea-Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome – PMC (nih.gov) 
  20. Effects of adherence to the Mediterranean diet in children and adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  21. FODMAP food list | Monash FODMAP – Monash Fodmap 
  22. Effect of Three Diets (Low-FODMAP, Gluten-free and Balanced) on Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms and Health-Related Quality of Life – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  23. Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Inflammation – You Are What You Eat! – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  24. The Immunomodulatory and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Polyphenols – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  25. The effects of polyphenols and other bioactives on human health – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  26. Anti-inflammatory activity of Albizia lebbeck Benth., an ethnomedicinal plant, in acute and chronic animal models of inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  27. Herbal formula improves upper and lower gastrointestinal symptoms and gut health in Australian adults with digestive disorders – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  28. Herbal Approaches to Pediatric Functional Abdominal Pain – PMC (nih.gov) 
  29. Antioxidant Supplements and Gastrointestinal Diseases: A Critical Appraisal – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  30. Beta-glucan, inositol and digestive enzymes improve quality of life of patients with inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome (europeanreview.org) 
  31. Aloe barbadensis Mill. extract improves symptoms in IBS patients with diarrhoea: post hoc analysis of two randomized double-blind controlled studies – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  32. The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data – PMC (nih.gov) 
  33. ACG Clinical Guideline: Management of Irritable Bowel Syndro… : Official journal of the American College of Gastroenterology | ACG (lww.com) 
  34. Efficacy of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: systematic review and meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  35. Clinical efficacy of Saccharomyces boulardii or metronidazole in symptomatic children with Blastocystis hominis infection.
  36. Physical activity for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  37. Reflex effects of subluxation: the autonomic nervous system – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  38. Cognitive behavioral therapy for irritable bowel syndrome induces bidirectional alterations in the brain-gut-microbiome axis associated with gastrointestinal symptom improvement – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  39. Acupuncture in Inflammatory Bowel Disease – PubMed (nih.gov)

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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