Irritable Gut

Is Your Gut Irritable

Is Your Gut Irritable
by Elizabeth McMillan, MS, CNS, LDN
IBS is a common disorder, affecting as much as 15 to 20 percent of the population. It is characterized as a chronic gastrointestinal disorder causing a combination of symptoms. Some of the symptoms include abdominal cramping, pain, gas, bloating, and constipation and/or diarrhea. Besides gut symptoms, IBS can cause headaches, skin problems, inability to lose weight, depression and anxiety.

Doctors will diagnose a person with IBS if they have been experiencing a variety of symptoms for a year or more with no significant improvements. Unfortunately, IBS is a catch-all diagnosis for poor gastrointestinal health. This means that if one is experiencing an array of gut symptoms with no specific cause or improvements, Western medicine will diagnose a person with IBS without finding the root cause. For anyone dealing with IBS, this can lead to years of frustration.

Western medicine believes that the cause of IBS is unknown. However, by examining the root cause of the symptoms, IBS can be treated holistically. One of the most common root causes of IBS is gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis is simply the gut microflora or bacteria out of balance. In a healthy gut, there are more beneficial bacteria than pathogenic bacteria, however dysbiosis inverses this relationship. When an imbalance occurs and the gut's beneficial bacteria diminish and the pathogenic bacteria flourish, gut dysbiosis occurs.

Another common cause of IBS is food sensitivities or food intolerances. A food sensitivity is different from a food allergy. Food allergies occur due to an anaphylaxes reaction of the immune system involving a specific antibody response. This response creates an immediate reaction like swelling. On the other hand, food sensitivities occur in the digestive tract and primarily cause digestive problems. A food intolerance, or delayed hypersensitivity, creates a response when antibodies are triggered in response to the ingested food. When this food is ingested, the immune system dispatches white blood cells to the digestive tract, causing a plethora of unpleasant symptoms. Over time, food sensitivity can damage the digestive tract, causing a wide array of symptoms.

The other most common cause of IBS is stress. Part of the nervous system wraps around the digestive tract like a giant web. This is called the enteric nervous system and is also known as the body's second brain. When we are stressed, the webbing coils tightly around the digestive tract causing symptoms of IBS like abdominal cramping, constipation or diarrhea. Interestingly, serotonin, a neurotransmitter that naturally stabilizes mood and emotions is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract. There is a slippery balance between IBS symptoms and our mood. Stress and anxiety can cause IBS and IBS can cause stress and anxiety.

Dysbiosis, food sensitivities and stress are some of the most common causes of IBS and understanding the root cause is the beginning of healing from irritable bowel syndrome. Healing IBS and eradicating the symptoms can be done effectively through the "Four R" program. This program removes foods that cause inflammation, replaces nutrients necessary for a healthy gut, repairs the gut inflammation and damage and re-inoculates the gut with good bacteria. The "Four R" program combined with lifestyle modifications like diet and stress reduction has shown to eliminate the frustrations of IBS.

Elizabeth McMillan, MS, CNS, LDN, is an integrative nutritionist at Rose Wellness where she uses a gut program in order to heal many digestive issues.

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