Five causes of IBS and how to tackle them
Many people have IBS - irritable bowel syndrome - a condition in which the large intestine becomes irritated and stops working properly.
This can lead to a range of symptoms including:
bloating and gas
anxiety and depression.
First Cause of IBS - Food Sensitivities
Almost two thirds of people with IBS have at least one food intolerance. When you are intolerant to a food the reaction is caused by IgG antibodies which do not cause an immediate reaction (like IgE reactions which are the ones that produce sudden and often dangerous reactions such as swelling, severe itching, etc.). The reaction may not occur for hours or even days and so it can be really difficult to spot which food or substance caused it. If you eat a delicious ice cream and you only get diarrheoa two days later you are not necessarily going to connect one with the other.
So, to find out which foods your gut is reacting to you need to remove foods from your diet for a couple of weeks and then re-introduce them one by one to see what happens. This is not always easy because if you are reacting to more than one food, then you need to remove all the foods that might be causing trouble or you will get very confusing results. If you take out gluten, for instance, and dairy is also a problem, then when you re-introduce gluten, your reaction to the dairy you are still consuming will make it very difficult to tell if the gluten is also causing problems as well.
You can get round this by eating a hypo-allergenic diet for two weeks. Two possible diets are:
Chicken, rice, lamb, potatoes and some vegetables
Lamb and pears
When I did this thirty years ago, I used the lamb and pears diet for five days. It was not easy and I felt pretty rough for the first three days as my body cleared out all the foods that I had been reacting to. When I reintroduced foods, I found I was reacting to sugar, dairy and wheat. I would never have found this out if I hadn't used this approach as it was just about the only approach available at that time.
However, there are now other alternative ways of doing this. You can have a blood test which has a reasonable degree of reliability. There are a number of companies that offer this service, York Test being one of the best known in the UK. If you are a in a different country then you will find services offered in your own country, just be sure to check that they are a reliable and well known company.
Another way to find out which foods you are sensitive to is to find a good Kinesiologist who will be able to test you for a range of foods to see which ones you react to. Kinesiology has the tools to find very specifically the foods that are particularly irritating to your bowel as well as foods that might be causing other problems. It is also possible to test for cosmetics and other substances that come into contact with your skin to see if any of these have a role in your condition or your health in general.
Once you have worked out which foods are affecting your bowel, these need to be removed from your diet until normal functioning has been restored to your bowel; this means for at least three months before you try re-introducing them. It may be that once your bowel has healed, you will be able to tolerate these foods or you might have to eliminate them more or less permanently to maintain healthy bowel function.
Second Cause of IBS - Dietary Factors
It is possible that dietary factors other than food sensitivities are playing a role in your IBS. Excess dietary fats. processed foods and a range of other things you might be consuming can also be irritants to the bowel. For this reason, it is a good idea to remove alcohol, caffeine, hot spices, animal fats, dairy products, fried food, nuts, seeds and processed foods from your diet while your bowel is receiving healing treatments. Most of these you will be able to eat/drink again once your bowel has recovered. Even if they do not show up when you are tested for IgG reactions or have kinesiology testing, they can still be causing problems because they are irritating to a gut that has lost some of its integrity.
Alcohol and caffeine are direct irritants to the digestive system. They directly stress the liver and require a lot of water for the body to be able to process them and clear them out. For this reason, they are best avoided because you want to be giving your digestive system the best chance of healing and returning to normal.
Fried foods and animal fats are difficult to digest and require the body to be able to produce enough lipase - the enzyme required to digest fat - in order for them to be fully digested. As your digestive system is already showing clear signs of being under stress with IBS, it is wise to reduce this stress as much as you possibly can by avoiding these foods for the time being. Nuts and seeds also come into this category as they are all high in fat and so, often, are processed foods.
It is sensible to leave out dairy products even if you did not show any intolerance to them because they contain quite high levels of fat and also lactose - a milk sugar - which is often very difficult to digest for people with digestive difficulties.
Spicy foods, especially hot spices, often irritate the gut, although some do have important healing properties so this does not apply to all spices. As a rule of thumb, avoid spices which are hot, such as cayenne and chilli.
Consider avoiding any other foods that you are aware you find difficult to digest during the time that you are undergoing a healing programme for your bowel.
Third Cause of IBS - Low Fibre Diet
Dietary fibre acts like a brush in the intestines, sweeping them clean as it passes through and helping the digested contents to move through to the colon and be passed out of the body. Fibre also encourages the peristalsis of the colon which is the name for the movement of the muscles around the colon contracting and relaxing to push the contents through. Lack of fibre often causes bloating and constipation.
The most well known source of fibre is wheat bran cereals which are easily available in the supermarket. However, because a lot of people with IBS are sensitive to gluten containing grains or, at least, to wheat this is not a good choice of fibre to use. Also wheat bran is a very rough kind of fibre which may cause more problems than it solves.
You can obtain plenty of fibre by eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, beans and pulses, oat bran or psyllium husks which can be taken either as a powder mixed into plenty of water or as capsules also taken with a big glass of water.
Fourth Cause of IBS - Candida albicans
Candida albicans is a yeast that lives naturally in the bowel and its population is normally kept in check by good bacteria. However, candida can overgrow and become a problem after taking antibiotics which kill all bacteria, good and bad; or when your diet is high in sugar which feeds the candida yeast, just as sugar is used to feed the yeast when making beer or wine.
Once it spreads through the gut, which it does this easily because it can cling on to the mucous membranes lining the gut, it secretes enzymes which can start to break down the lining of the gut. Candida causes a range of unpleasant symptoms which vary from person to person and may include rashes, digestive problems, headaches, fatigue and brain fog.
There are a range of different supplements which have been developed to kill off candida such as those containing Caprylic Acid (which comes from coconut), oregano, aloe vera, garlic, golden seal, pau d'arco and coenzymes Q10. To successfully bring a candida infection under control you will need to take one of these specially designed supplements alongside radically reducing your sugar intake. This means no sugar, honey, agave syrup or anything really sweet, including sweet fruits such as grapes, melon, pineapple, etc. You may also need to remove yeast containing foods such as bread, yeast extract, alcohol and some fermented foods such as cheese.
Number Five - Anxiety, Stress and Depression
The gut reacts strongly to our emotions. I am sure you have experienced 'butterflies' in your tummy when excited or nervous; some people get diarrheoa when they are really nervous about something. This shows that our digestive systems are affected by what is going on in our emotional lives.
So if you are in a stressful job, anxious about something going on in your life or depressed for any reason, your gut will be directly affected. And if you already have a tendency towards a reactive gut, then you will be more likely to experience the symptoms of IBS when life gets difficult emotionally.
It is really important to regulate your stress levels whether your gut is reacting or not. Think about whether:
you could reduce your working hours a bit if your working life is stressing you out
get some help with your children if family life is getting on top of you
you could arrange some counselling if you need some help with anxiety and/or depression
Helpful techniques to try are:
all of which can help you to cope with and reduce your stress.
consider the five causes of IBS above and think about which ones are likely to be a factor for you. Then take some action. If you are not sure where to start you could try going to a complementary practitioner, such as a Kinesiologist or Nutritionist, for some guidance. With some hard work and willingness to try a variety of methods, I am sure you will find you can make your IBS a thing of the past.