Digestive Distress: Holistic Approaches to Irritable Bowel Syndrome
When the smooth rhythm of the muscles of the digestive tract is disrupted, either moving too quickly or too slowly, we experience digestive distress. For some of us, this distress can be frequent and painful, creating a major disruption in our life and in our lifestyle.
Several health conditions are marked by severe digestive distress including ulcerative colitis, Crohn's Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). While all of these conditions involve inflammation of the lining of the bowel, IBS can be healed through careful shifts in diet and lifestyle.
What is IBS?
IBS is marked by abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, and a cluster of symptoms that last for three months or longer. Symptoms vary for each person and can include:
Stomach gas and bloatingAlternating diarrhea and constipationMucus in the stoolNausea after eatingRectal bleedingAbdominal pain that progresses or occurs at nightWeight loss not explained by dieting or other health concerns
IBS can be caused by one or several underlying health factors that cause a disruption in the digestive tract. These factors can include:
Food Allergy or Sensitivity. Research has shown that IBS can be triggered or made worse in people who are consuming foods to which they have a food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity. For some people a specific category of carbohydrate foods known as "high-FODMAP" create symptoms of IBS. For a list of food culprits, read the article below and see how you can help determine what is causing your distress.
Imbalance in Gut Flora. In the digestive system, we have friendly gut flora that support the process of digestion, nutrient absorption, and immunity. If we don't have enough friendly flora, or there is an overgrowth of unfriendly flora, or an "invader" yeast or bacteria, then inflammation, nutritional deficiency, and digestive distress can result. Toxins, processed foods, stress and antibiotic use can also increase inflammation and trigger or worsen IBS.
Hormones. Changes in hormones, particularly for women, can cause a cascade of changes in the body, including digestion.
A Holistic Plan for Healing IBS
Holistic practitioners assess for IBS using diagnostic tools such as physical exam, lab tests, stool and urine tests, food allergy or intolerance testing, dietary assessment, and assessment of lifestyle factors including stress level, fatigue, etc. The goal is to identify sources of inflammation that have set the stage for developing IBS. Once identified, doctor and patient, and sometimes a nutritionist, will develop a plan to minimize/ eliminate exposure to triggers, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.
The "healing plan" for IBS will be different for every person because so many factors interact to produce inflammation and symptoms. This plan can include following a Low-FODMAP Diet (useful for a variety of GI conditions), nutritional and herbal supplementation, stress management, avoiding smoking and caffeine, moderating alcohol intake, adjusting sleeping habits, homeopathy and exercise.
If you suspect that you are affected by IBS, contact a holistic health practitioner about an evaluation and put yourself on the road to wellness. It is possible to enjoy food again and heal from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.