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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and accounts for 40% of visits to the gastroenterologist. IBS is not a disease, but a collection of symptoms usually involving chronic intestinal discomfort with diarrhea and/or constipation. Unfortunately, however, IBS has become a "garbage can" diagnosis in that if a person's symptoms are not attributed to a specific cause, they will frequently get thrown under the generic IBS umbrella. The long-term result will often lead to mismanagement of the condition due to lack of identifying the root cause.

The good news for IBS sufferers is that there is often a personalized treatment plan that does more than just treat the symptoms. By understanding the ways in which the digestive tract functions, we can begin to determine the underlying triggers. The most common triggers for IBS fall under two categories: physical and emotional. Let's look at the physical first. Digestive enzymes are needed to ensure proper breakdown and absorption of food particles. Stress, poor diet and age may lead to a decrease in the availability of enzymes and result in gas, bloating, cramping and/or abdominal pain. When foods are not properly broken down, several things may happen. First, the undigested food particles may ferment and multiply causing an overgrowth of yeast or Candida Albicans. Overtime, these undigested food particles may irritate the protective gastrointestinal lining and eventually cause permeation of the membrane and transmittal of food particles into the digestive tract. As a result, the body perceives the unwanted food substance as a foreign invader and responds in the form of a symptom. The symptom (s) is identified as a food allergy or food sensitivity that may trigger and/or exacerbate the gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc.

On an emotional level, IBS may be further triggered by brain chemical imbalance. The digestive tract harbors a significant number receptors for the "feel good" brain chemical, serotonin. Serotonin is produced by the amino acid tryptophan through a chain of reactions. It is also plays a large role in the biology of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, migraine, sexuality and appetite. By optimizing serotonin production, we can control emotional eating, portion control, and regular hunger patterns, thus helping to control gastrointestinal symptoms and reactions.

Chronic stress may also play a significant role in provoking the symptoms of IBS. The stress hormone, cortisol must be regulated to ensure optimal biochemical function. If overproduced, cortisol may have a catabolic or breaking down affect on the body. This may result in a worn down gastrointestinal mucosal lining, impaired digestive enzyme production and decreased availability of the brain chemical, serotonin.


Common Symptoms

Constipation and/or diarrhea; painful bowel movements; undigested food particles in stool; abdominal bloating; cramping; feelings of incomplete defecation; loose stools with onset of pain; more frequent bowel movements at onset of pain; passage of mucus from the rectum; relief of abdominal pain by defecation.


Natural Treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome is best managed through individualized dietary and lifestyle modifications. Treatment begins with determining the root cause of the symptoms through food recall analysis, symptom review, medical history review and laboratory testing. Working with a Holistic Registered Dietitian is essential for this type of personalized assessment (online or in person).

Gastrointestinal testing provides a diagnostic evaluation of enzyme output, acid levels, inflammation, bacteria and yeast presence, and antibodies. This helps treat the root cause of the syndrome. Food allergy testing or an individual food allergy diet (personalized plan) is often recommended to identify specific food triggers. Supplementation with healing vitamins, amino acids and/or herbs is necessary to heal the integrity of the stomach mucosal membrane, reinoculate the intestines with health bacteria and provide proper enzymes for optimal digestion and absorption.

Exercise is also instrumental in improving digestion and regularity. Physical activity improves blood flow and gastric movement. It can also reduce stress and help the body cope with stressful events, which lowers the incidence of digestive ailments related to stress stimuli. The EB Nutrition Personal Trainers can help design an exercise program that is right for you and for your digestive tract.



Rister, R. Healing Without Medication: A Comprehensive Guide to the Complementary Techniques Anyone Can Use to Achieve Real Healing. Laguna Beach: Basic Health Publications, Inc.; 2003: 360-361.

Reinhard T. Gastrointestinal Disorders and Nutrition. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2002.

Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S. Kraus's Food, Nutrition, & Diet Therapy. 11th Ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2004: 727-728.


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