IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is the most commonly diagnosed GI ailment, affecting 15 percent of the population–the majority being women. Most people who suffer from IBS will tell you how difficult it is to manage their symptoms, with little to no hope of an actual cure.
So why is IBS so common and why haven’t we found an effective treatment?
Well, it’s because it’s not a real diagnosis.
It’s a diagnosis made when all other problems are ruled out. IBS sufferers seek medical advise from gastroenterologists when they experience diarrhea, constipation, nausea, mucus in stools, gas, bloating and abdominal pain. Common medical practice treats these symptoms with a combination of steroids, fiber and mental counseling. These physicians make a connection between stress, anxiety and IBS and feel counseling is an important aspect in treating symptoms.
Although stress and anxiety do play a factor, this treatment ignores the physiological aspects of the problem.
Many IBS sufferers also experience one or more of the following conditions:
• Sleep disorders
• Debilitating menstrual periods
• Sexual dysfunction
• Back pain
• Seasonal allergies
• Chronic fatigue
These conditions are often treated independently from IBS, but they are actually a related symptom. Issues with the endocrine system and hormones are usually a direct result of adrenal problems and adrenal fatigue. The body doesn’t regulate digestion when the adrenal glands are not functioning properly leading to IBS symptoms.
Patients who suffer from adrenal fatigue are usually on the go, driven, type A personality people. These type of people’s bodies are constantly moving and don’t stop to go to the bathroom. Their guts become inflamed leading to constipation, diarrhea, food allergies, sensitivities, gas, bloating and malabsorption. When the body doesn’t absorb fats, nutrients and vitamins, the intestinal flora gets out of balance allowing opportunistic bacteria to grow.
To further explain what is happening, think of your GI tract as an apartment complex. In the apartment complex you have bacteria such as strep or candida contained in their own apartments. Outside of each apartment you have a series of landlords who take care of the building. These landlords, or probiotics, regulate and contain the harmful bacteria within the apartment walls. Everything functions normally as long as these landlords are present to regulate things. When they become weak or disappear, the strep and candida bacteria begin to grow and eventually spread outside of the individual apartments, taking over the entire complex. In order to keep them in check, you have to rebuild the probiotics and kill off the offending agent to regulate the system once again.
Naturopathic medical practitioners use various herbs and supplements to shut these apartment doors and keep them shut.
Common herbs used to kill intestinal overgrowth:
For yeast overgrowth, acidic herbs such as grape fruit extract, caprylic acid
To build up the probiotics and keep bacteria in check:
• Saccharomyces boulardii (low amounts of culture are found in yogurt–not enough to be an effective treatment).
Effective amounts of probiotics are between 30 and 250 billion and can be found in capsule or powdered form.
Prebiotics such as FructoOligoSaccharides (FOS) are also sometimes used, but often cause gas and bloating in many of these cases.
To heal the intestinal lining:
• Glutamine, an amino acid used to heal, provide food for and heal mucosal surfaces.
• Aloe vera juice
• Slippery elm
• Marshmallow root
• Deglycyrrhizinated licorice
• N-Acetyl glucosamine
It is not enough to fix the bacterial overgrowth and heal the intestinal lining, you also have to fix digestive problems so food is broken down and doesn’t continue to sit in the stomach. For this purpose, digestive enzymes normally released by the stomach or pancreas is administered on a case-by-case basis.
Once the physiological problems are addressed, we begin to look at adrenal issues related to IBS and other GI ailments. It takes time to lower cortisol levels and fix adrenal fatigue. One supplement used for adrenal support is Phosphatidylserine, which regulates stress response and works to calm the system down.
There is a link between stress and IBS but gastroenterologists tend to focus on the mental fix and are not addressing the physiology behind it. Even with stress and anxiety management therapy, patients still have flare-ups. You can treat stress and you can heal the gut, but if you don’t get rid of original cause, then you won’t heal.
For people suffering from symptoms similar to IBS, it is wise to seek the health care advise of a naturopathic physician before self-diagnosing or administering herbal remedies
About Dr. Tricia Pingel
Dr. Tricia Pingel is a naturopathic medical doctor located in Scottsdale, Arizona. She treats a variety of conditions, including menopausal symptoms with bio-identical hormone replacement, infertility, cardiac, thyroid disorders, anxiety/depression, gastrointestinal concerns, such as, gas/bloating, food allergies, celiac disease, IBD and more!
Please visit www.drpingel.com for more information.