What is IBS?

The cramping, the bloating, the pain and gas, the constipation and/or diarrhea: these are common symptoms that describe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

As the Mayo Clinic describes, there is no specific test for diagnosing IBS; it is more of a collection of symptoms and previous health history, including ruling out any more serious conditions.

This loose connection of symptoms (once more serious conditions have been ruled out) is what can make IBS so frustrating. Each person presents slightly different uncomfortable gastrointestinal issues, and it is so easy to just grab an over-the-counter medication to cover them up.

However, covering up issues instead of learning about and tackling them over time has many downsides. From How Antacids Work Like a ‘Gateway Drug’:

“But, like most medications, antacids don’t address the underlying cause. Using them routinely can also lead to a vicious cycle by contributing to gastrointestinal damage that creates more of the very symptoms that you’re trying to resolve,” writes author Amy Denney.

The article goes on to explain that while medications, like antacids are not addictive, they are an easy first step into what later become “controversial proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), which work by turning down the mechanism that produces hydrochloric acid.”

Building on that idea, the author states that, “Long-term PPI use has been associated with a number of other conditions, including dementia and severe gastrointestinal disease. There are concerns that PPIs are overprescribed and taken for longer than intended while the root causes still go unaddressed.

“Overreliance on antacids is a problem that isn’t diminishing. A March 2022 review published in the Journal of International Medical Research reported an increase in gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that were connected to a change in dietary habits and increased anxiety related to lockdowns. Where GI issues arise, antacids often follow for longer than intended while the root causes still go unaddressed.”

What is the takeaway?

Learning what’s at the root of any gastrointestinal issue will help while masking or ignoring an issue can lead to long-term challenges. So … let’s learn!

Understanding IBS

Let’s bring some added clarity with these definitions. Quoting from The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation:

Irritable bowel syndrome is classified as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, which means there is some type of disturbance in bowel function.

IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease, which is an umbrella term used to describe disorders that cause chronic inflammation of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The two most common forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Symptoms of IBS

IBS symptoms and their intensity can vary from person to person. Symptoms often occur after eating a large meal or when you are under stress, and they are often temporarily relieved by having a bowel movement.

· Chronic and persistent abdominal pain

· Constipation alternating with diarrhea

· Mucus in the stool

· Gassiness

· Abdominal bloating, or the sensation of feeling full

· Abdominal distention, or swelling

· The urge to move your bowels without being able to have a bowel movement

· Nausea

Anemia, bleeding, weight loss, and fever are symptoms of IBD, not IBS. If you are experiencing these symptoms, seek immediate medical treatment.

IBS contributing factors

  1. Specific foods can increase symptoms. Milk, high-fructose and processed foods, caffeine, and even carbonated drinks can add to a person’s discomfort. It’s honestly different for everybody.
  2. Increased stress and anxiety can play a role in everyone’s digestions. Researchers are not sure which one comes first, but there is a clear and established connection between IBS and anxiety.
  3. Genetics are also a possible culprit for IBS. Information from Healthline states that, “Research has shown that the risk of developing IBS is twice as high if you have a biological relative with it.” The article also mentions that “a 2020 research review suggests that IBS also has an epigenetic aspect (our lifestyle!). This means that the environment and your behavior could affect the genes that determine whether IBS is triggered.”
  4. Additionally, more research is pinpointing what is called visceral hypersensitivity as a contributing factor to IBS. Simply put, a person might have a “lowered threshold for abdominal pain and discomfort in response to pressure, stimulation, or distension within the abdomen.” Everyone has this brain-gut connection, and for some people, they can feel more, which translates into discomfort. (Read the rest of the above linked article to find out more on this interesting aspect.)

What can we do?

  1. First, start with lowering stress. The standard advice for reducing stress applies to managing IBS: exercise, get enough sleep, drink enough water, meditate or do mindful/spiritual activities, pray, take time to decompress, and so on.
  2. Take good care of your gut. Your gut has more than 500 million neurons (your brain has about 100 billion neurons). Your nervous system is intertwined, especially through the vagus nerve, which has a direct connection from the brain and the gut. This interaction involves neurotransmitters that affect both how your body (gut) and brain feel and behave. Look through these two previous blogs, Create Calm to Carry On and Relaxing Even When the Stress Remains, to learn more about the nervous system response and gather tips to reduce stress — which will also help manage IBS.
  3. Try using far infrared light therapy. Follow the previous link to learn more; but in a nutshell, the idea is that the red light helps stimulate your own body’s healing for a variety of health issues. You can also read more about the application in Infrared Saunas here. Next month, we’ll discuss more of this therapy option.
  4. Try an App called Nerva to help calm symptoms. Hypnosis is another technique shown to help quiet the nervous system. One study found that about 70% of patients using Nerva had significant improvement in symptoms.

Even though IBS sounds complicated (and there is much data!), the good news is that the approach to helping most people with gastrointestinal distress is universal. Do what is good for your whole body, and you will support your gut, too.

If you have any questions, as always, drop me a line.