By: Clifford M. Sonnie, M.D.
Today I’d like to talk about irritable bowel syndrome. I can’t tell you how many people have come into the office labeled with this condition. It is a very common condition in the United States. Statistics show 1 out of every 10 Americans has symptoms of IBS. In fact, it is the second highest cause of days lost from work after the common cold. This syndrome often starts in adolescence or young adults and affects almost twice as many women as it does men. It has also been associated with stress, and historically has been considered a “wastebasket” diagnosis for patients with gastrointestinal complaints when no other diagnosis can be found. Before we go on, there is an official disease called inflammatory bowel disorder which is an autoimmune disorder, and can have very serious consequences. Irritable bowel syndrome is not this. IBS is a functional bowel problem. In other words, no specific physical condition can contribute to the problem.
So how do you know if you have IBS? Well, some of the common symptoms include frequent abdominal pain or discomfort. This can be associated with or without eating. It can have spastic contractions of the colon where you feel as if gas builds up and releases very quickly with no specific rhythm. You can feel bloating, an increase in gas, and you can have either ends of the spectrum, meaning constipation or diarrhea. So what causes it? Well, since it is a syndrome, and like I said there is no specific problem associated with it, many things have been attributed to it. The American College of Gastroenterology said it could be because of a low fiber diet, emotional stress, or overuse of laxatives or a possible infectious problem. Diet may also be a cause with artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, dairy products, chocolate, alcohol, and carbonated beverages, all triggering or aggravating symptoms. Probably the biggest culprit to date is gluten which is contained in all wheat and barley. So when you look at this, essentially anything can cause it and when you look at it further maybe this is nothing more than a sensitivity or “allergy” if you will.
How do you treat it? Traditional medicine has medications that will reduce the bowel spasm itself and as a result reduce the pressure and pain. This is done by the use of some thing called an anti-cholinergic drug and it affects the nervous system. Well, if it affects the nervous system of the intestine, you can be very sure it is affecting the nervous system everywhere else in your body. There are also anti-flatulence drugs, such as symethicone to reduce gas. There are medications to reduce diarrhea, such as Imodium or Limodal, and over use of these can actually block the intestine. Bulk producing agents such as Metamucil which in and of itself can have many different additives are also used.
Alternative ways to treat this as I mentioned before, stem from its association with allergies. If you know what you are allergic to, or what foods trigger the reaction, you can just eliminate them from you diet. If you cannot pinpoint it, we have methods here at the office that involve no pain or bloodletting to determine them. The avoidance of refined foods, has been known to help. Also eliminating any foods that have trans fats have also been known to help. Natural fiber supplements especially soluble fiber has been studied and has been used extensively to decrease pain, cramping, and gas. Digestive enzymes have also been used with success. Nutritional deficiencies may be associated with IBS although a good diet complete in whole foods, fruits and vegetables will usually do the trick. Probiotic supplements which I have spoken about before will help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal and ultimately healthy immune system. And my all-time favorite is exercise, 30 minutes a day 5 days a week where you are upright and working against gravity instead of with gravity
Getting back to the allergy, there is a technique called nutritional typing. There are a variety of ways out there to do this and we can speak to you about the one that best suits your needs. Essentially, it suggests what calorie source your body best utilizes. Does your body like carbohydrates more that fats and proteins, does it like proteins more that fats and carbs etc? Additionally, we have techniques that actually eliminate the allergies as well. Last but not least, I have found that, many people have an emotional component with IBS. It contributes to many physical symptoms, not only with the IBS but with others and has led to stress induced problems in these patients. Meditation, prayer, relaxation techniques, exercise all have helped. As I have mentioned in other articles just getting out and smelling the roses has helped. There are emotional release techniques that we do utilize at our office, and have been proven to be helpful.
If IBS is a condition that either you or someone you know is suffering from hopefully these tips will be able to help you to manage your symptoms. Please feel free to give us a call at The Balance of Life Clinic and we can sit down with you and hopefully come up with an answer to your problem.. As always check with your MD or DO before starting anything new. And as usual, a smart healthcare consumer is informed and aware.
Clifford M. Sonnie, M.D., M.P.H. is the medical director at the Balance of Life Clinic.