- Dana is 35 and has horrible digestion issues.
- She experienced bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort, and inconsistent bowel movements.
- She was diagnosed with IBS and told it would be a life-long issue.
- All she could do was treat the symptoms with a battery of over the counter drugs.
It’s estimated that 10 – 15% of the population suffers from IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, it’s the most common GI issue and is more prevalent in women than in men.
While Dana came to me with the IBS diagnosis in hand, we quickly determined that treating the symptoms (as is most often the recommendation from doctors) was not how she wanted to live her life.
I was convinced that if we could get to the root cause of this issue, we could rid her of the vicious cycle of medications she was on. We could finally put an end to her taking Immodium one day and fiber supplements the next.
What is IBS
IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome and the term is quite literal. The symptoms can range greatly from patient to patient and may include any combination of gas, bloating, stomach pain, urgency, diarrhea, constipation. However, some may experience certain symptoms one day and then wake up the next day with the opposite symptoms. IBS tends to be a ‘catch-all’ diagnosis for doctors and often doctors will diagnose IBS when they can’t find any other cause for the symptoms.
Understanding the Digestive System
Getting to the root cause of IBS symptoms is a matter of looking at the whole body and looking for where things are out of balance. To do that, we need to understand what’s happening in the digestive system. When we chew food, our saliva (which has enzymes in it) starts the digestive process. The food makes its way to the stomach where it should encounter hydrochloric acid which further breaks down the food and also acts as an antiseptic, killing off pathogens or bacteria that may have been tagging along on our food.
The food then moves to the small intestine where it encounters enzymes created by the pancreas to further break down the food. Fats get broken down a little differently. In order for that to happen, the liver has to process bile (which is stored in the gallbladder) that when released and combined with the enzymes, emulsifies fats.
The Balance of Good and Bad Gut Bacteria
We have good and bad bacteria that live in our intestines which is called our microbiome. This balance can be disrupted by a number of things that reduce the good bacteria including eating sugar, exposure to stressors or environmental toxins, and antibiotics. Medications like NSAIDs (like Advil) or steroids can also destroy some of the good bacteria.
It’s really common to have the microbiome out of balance because these destroyers of good bacteria are so pervasive. When the good bacteria are depleted, we can experience an overgrowth of yeast (which is a fungal overgrowth).
What is Dysbiosis and How Does it Cause Leaky Gut and Food Sensitivities?
When we have too much of the bad bacteria in our gut (and not enough of the good), we experience something called Dysbiosis. This is just a fancy word for our gut bacteria not living in harmony together. When we are in dysbiosis, and we don’t digest our foods completely, as this undigested food enters the intestines, it might be carrying bacteria that can ferment the food in the intestines. Dysbiosis can also trigger the immune system (which is really smart and recognizes the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut) to attack the bad bacteria. The bad bacteria responds by forming ‘biofilm’ in the intestines but that can harden over time and as the bad bugs try and protect themselves further from your immune system, they can dig themselves deeper and deeper into the intestinal lining and can “poke through” the very thin epithelial lining of the intestines causing what’s known as ‘leaky gut’. Food can then leave the intestines (through the holes) where it doesn’t belong. The immune system sees that the food and knows it doesn’t belong and treats it like an invader and forms an antibody against it. The next time that we eat that food, the body treats it like a foe and not a friend because of the antibodies that were produced and that is how we develop food sensitivities.
IBS Symptoms and Dysbiosis
Dysbiosis, ill-digested food, and leaky gut can all create the symptoms often associated with IBS. When food is not broken down properly, it can sit in the system for too long and as it gets fermented by the bacteria, it causes gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Inflammation can also occur and wreak additional havoc with the digestive system. Plus, the leaky gut can cause new food sensitivities that further mimic the symptoms of IBS.
Testing for IBS
Conventional tests for IBS include an endoscopies and colonoscopies. These are invasive tests that can reveal serious health concerns but when it comes to an IBS diagnosis, they tend to answer the ‘what’ but not the ‘why’. It may reveal inflammation but it won’t identify the cause of that inflammation. When we look at if from a more functional approach, we can do a variety of tests that look into why things are not working the way they are supposed to.
In Dana’s case, we looked at a DNA-based stool test. This helped us identify all of the different bacteria and yeasts in her intestines. This test revealed many different clues that lead us to look at the pancreas and a leaky gut.
The results from the stool test allow us to create a plan for restoring her digestive health. We didn’t identify any specific foods as sensitivities opting instead to remove the most common offenders including gluten, dairy, soy, corn and sugar. We also introduced a combination of antimicrobial herbs to kill off the yeast and bacteria. This herbal combination was custom created to be both antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic. This option was gentle on the good bacteria and easy on the system. I also put Dana on a supplement to support her enzymatic production and bile flow back to a sufficient level.
Dana experienced some temporary ‘die off’ symptoms but she started to notice an improvement in her digestion after 4 weeks into the new protocol and after completing the “killing off” process, the bloating subsided and she returned to regular bowel movements. To further support her recovery, we added in a probiotic to reset the microbiome. The final step was to heal the leaky gut, with an L-glutamine powder for a few months. Once everything was back to normal, we did a food sensitivity test to determine which of the suspect foods she could reintroduce.
Eliminating Health Mysteries
For Dana we were able to get to the root of what was causing her IBS symptoms and, much to her surprise, get her back to living a symptom-free life without medications. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with IBS or is experiencing IBS symptoms, it’s so important to figure out where the breakdowns are happening and correct them. You don’t need to suffer through these symptoms.
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