How I Help People Get Relief from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
A young woman recently wrote to me to tell me she suffered from severe IBS, and asked what my process is for treating that.
I realized that while this is a discussion I go through with all my IBS patients, it’s probably both a) a really good review for them to remember what we’re up to, and b) useful to share with other people that may be considering treatment, but haven’t started. Paraphrasing, here’s what I told her:
Thanks for your question, and I’m sorry to hear that you’re suffering from severe IBS. I know that can be debilitating and really get in the way of living a normal life. Here’s an overview of my approach. Note that these elements tend to overlap (i.e., there’s a lot of give & take, rather than discrete ordered steps).
1) One of the important early steps is to identify food triggers (also called “food intolerances,” “food sensitivities,” or “food allergies”). This is a quite-common source of trouble. Foods you don’t personally digest well sit in your GI tract causing inflammation, and that inflammation causes both weakness in the digestive system (limiting your ability to absorb nutrients, which are required for healing), and often, “Leaky Gut” syndrome. I like to reassure people that you may not have to completely remove the food(s) from your diet (though you may choose to), but they will need to at least be reduced.
2) So, we want to seal up that “Leaky Gut” which often causes symptoms outside the GI tract, notably skin issues (acne, psoriasis/eczema, and/or dandruff) and mucous membrane issues (which could show up as chronic sinusitis, allergies, UTIs, vaginitis, asthma, or others).
3) …And strengthen digestive tone, so we can get you digesting properly and absorbing those nutrients you need for healing and, ultimately, optimal health and wellness.
4) Along the way we need to identify other sources of the trouble, such as an imbalance in the population of “good” and “bad” flora in the gut. Nearly everyone has had antibiotics at one time or another, and this is a frequent source of imbalance. I frequently send out a stool sample to see “who’s” living in there, so we can correct an incorrect balance.
5) And I always work on optimizing throughput of organs of elimination (liver, kidneys, lung, bowel), because the other half of digestion is eliminating metabolic (and external sources of) waste. A lot of times we’re collecting up toxic yuck in our bodies, rather than eliminating everything (even if you have diarrhea, let’s say). That storage of toxins in the tissues interferes with the proper function of organ systems. So, we’ll work on cleaning that up. When your organ systems are working optimally, they can do their work, which is what you need to get you on the road to good health.
If this sounds like an involved process, I’m going to say: you’re right. It’s work to clean up the mess that our conventional food & health/medical culture often leave behind, and work to put better habits and systems in place. But it absolutely can be done, and I see people not only heal and recover from severe IBS all the time, but even thrive in the long run.
I hope that helps, and I invite any questions/comments via my Facebook page.