IBS does not exist
Although I do not believe that IBS exists, I see people every day that have been told they have this condition. The condition is a collection of symptoms that might be experienced as an unsettled/ irritable gut, but When I work with my clients and listen to their story, I ask myself this question “what is troubling and irritating your gut? What is causing your symptoms” Until the root cause is found and dealt with, IBS is just a label given to the unknown, a mysterious illness? it’s not mysterious to me…
As many as 1 in 8 people in the UK suffer with IBS and onset usually occurs between ages of 20 and 30 years, and as is twice as common in women as in men. It is one of the most common reasons that people go to their Doctor with estimates between 1.6 and 3.9 million people seeking help. It is a huge problem, 10% of the UK population are affected with many more cases undiagnosed. Sufferers often turn to Dr Google or take advice from unqualified Nutritionists and health coaches that are often giving at best; very generalised advice or at worst; really dangerous advice. Frustrated, worried and confused people choose to self-guide adjusting their diet, excluding food groups often resulting in them feeling worse which can ultimately result in malnutrition.
What is IBS? Let’s think about that unhelpful label for a moment; irritable, bowel, syndrome. Syndrome is a word used to describe a collection of symptoms that occur simultaneously but where the root cause is often unknown. The diagnosis is often handed out with a packet of Buscopan (which helps in the short term) and no further solutions although anti-depressants is often suggested as the patient will commonly suffer with anxiety and/or depression But, what is really going on? What is irritating the bowel? Let me tell you what I know from over 7 year’s experience helping hundreds of people find the root cause and resolve their IBS.
The root cause of IBS is multi-factorial. Until all factors can be spotted, unpicked and resolved, the symptoms will continue. Management through conventional medicine focuses on relieving symptoms without finding the root cause which is why so many people are simply labelled with IBS and left to deal with it themselves which is why you need me in your life 😉
The symptom profile that will get you an IBS diagnosis as outlined in NICE clinical guideline includes:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Changes in bowel habits
- Symptoms made worse by eating
- Mucus in stools
Additional common symptoms are; lethargy, nausea, sleep problems, anxiety and symptoms are considerably worse when the patient is stressed.
IBS-sufferers who usually fall into one of these three camps; IBS-D (diarrhoea dominant IBS), IBS-C (constipation dominant IBS) or a combination of those who flip between the two types! For example, some people notice when they are stressed or emotional that their gut completely shuts down and stops working leading to chronic constipation. There are others, that being under pressure or facing a new situation for the first time will create a sense of urgency and frequent trips to the loo.
We know from scientific studies and data that I see from my clients stool analysis reports that people with IBS symptoms, mood disorders and anxiety for example, have a very different gut microbiome to “healthy subjects” and when we make changes to diet and lifestyle the gut microbiome is modified and results in improved symptoms. There are other cases where I have tracked back symptoms to an infection or a bad bout of food poisoning which you often leads to Chronic Fatigue syndrome or Adrenal Fatigue.
Root causes: Stress
More and more science is emerging about the gut-brain link and how it is implicated in IBS, the more we recognise the connection between our thoughts, mood, stress and our gut, the better opportunity is presented for getting the help you need.
I see so many people with tummy troubles alongside stress/anxiety/low mood it is important to recognise the impact our nervous system has on our gut. There are only two states as far as your digestive system is concerned; “fight or flight” controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest” controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. The two together decide how quickly or slowly food will move through the digestive system. This determines your ability to breakdown, absorb and assimilate nutrients, and can lead to being under-nourished and even deficiencies such as vitamin d deficiency. Finding ways to reduce and manage stress is a key consideration.
Thoughts, emotions, stress, environment and your food choices influence how your bowel functions. Can you recall a time when you got butterflies, a nervous feeling in your gut or that gut feeling that something just doesn’t feel right? Your nervous system is connected to your gut sending it into hyper-drive resulting in a change in bowel habits i.e. urgency and loose stools or constipation. This is a good example of the gut-brain connection. The GI tract is known as the “second brain” for good reason as it contains its own nervous system consisting or 100 million nerve cells constantly receiving information from the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
Root causes; Bacteria
The bacteria that thrive in each of our gut weighs in at a whopping 3lb’s (*factoid; that is the same weight as the average brain!) and its diversity of species that make up your gut microbiome determines your health in many ways influencing your mood and emotions.
Your gut microbiome is determined before you were even born, and is further shaped from the way you were delivered into the world i.e. vaginal delivery or C-section through your environment; do you live in a Town or City or on a farm? and do you take medication? And then consider stress, illness, diet, antibiotics. These influences on our gut microbiome play a key role in the development of IBS.
Root causes; Diet
Food choices influence the shape and diversity of your gut microbiome almost immediately, one study demonstrated that healthy changes made to diet altered the bacteria diversity after just one day. What you eat is not only feeding you, but also your gut bacteria who need specific kinds of food to survive. The food that your gut bugs love are rich in fibre that we don’t digest thereby providing a substrate that they feed off and influences your bowel movements. Understanding which fibre and how much to include is the reason that I created my Good Gut Point System and why we will be talking about poo if you want to work with me. It tells me so much about what is going on inside the gut.
In some cases a lack of digestive enzymes resulting in an inability to breakdown specific food groups leads to food intolerances which can be another cause of “IBS”.
It is important to understand that some foods exacerbate IBS, for example. foods like beans, lentils, pulses which we know are good for us are likely to cause worse symptoms. I help you to navigate this so that you can manage symptoms whilst building your tolerance to these foods so you can get back to enjoying a diverse and nutritious diet.
Finding your root cause
Commonly people come to me for help after a “diagnosis” of IBS after trying to work things through on their own without much success and have restricted their diet so much that they are deficient in some critical nutrients needed for optimal health.
After years of experience helping people resolve their gut problems using natural solutions my passion is to help you find the root cause which can be multifactorial. I help unpick the layers that have built up over time and leave you with a medley of confusing symptoms and confusion over which food to eat. Conventional medicine likes you to only have one body part at a time to deal with i.e., you will see a psychologist for a mental health disorder and a gastroenterologist for diarrhoea, but the two conditions are commonly linked. I look at the whole picture and find the connection between all of your body systems so I can take an integrated approach to help you recover using the principles of functional medicine.
Taking all of these possible factors into consideration you can see how an integrated, holistic approach to resolving IBS is needed. This is how I can help you. I listen to your story, what influences, and triggers have happened in your life, what food you eat and those you avoid. We work together to improve your digestion, gut health, diet and your mood because you are unique, and therefore your best chance of resolution should be too.
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Evie Whitehead dipION, mBANT, CNHC
*Disclaimer: the information provided here is for information purposes only and not designed to treat or diagnose. I do not know your personal circumstances and therefore to get a personalised, bespoke health plan please get in touch to arrange your private consultation today