What exactly is IBS?
IBS actually means Irritable Bowel Syndrome and it's a set of symptoms that aren't found to be contributing to bowel cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, usually after some investigations. They can't find anything wrong with you, but you're still having symptoms, so you end up with a label of IBS.
And IBS tends to flare up during the peri-menopause, so women over 40 are more prone to it. That's in part due to the close interconnection between hormones and the gut.
Once you've been diagnosed with IBS, you're pretty much left to manage it on your own. There are some drugs that can help with symptoms, but they're not doing just that, managing the symptoms.
If you can find the root cause for it, then you have a fighting chance of actually getting to the bottom of it and resolving it.
What are the common root causes?
1. Gut flora imbalance. We have a whole ecosystem living in our intestines, around 100 trillion (or thereabouts!), all different species of microbes and organisms that help us function. They have a whole host of roles to play, but they can get out of balance through various factors, including stress, diet, medications and toxins.
2. Low stomach acid. You produce hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to help breakdown your food and pass it down the system. If it's not digested properly due to insufficient gastric secretions, it can sit in the gut too long. It can cause gas, bloating, indigestion, and problems further down the digestive tract.
3. Food sensitivities. Certain foods can cause certain bodies to react and launch a bit of an immune response against them. They're not immediately dangerous, but they can cause a lot of symptoms and over time they can be quite damaging. The big ones are gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs. The top one in my view is always gluten. It doesn't mean everybody reacts to gluten, but if you have a sensitivity, it can cause the immune system to use inflammation just like it would if you've had an injury, but it's just on the inside of your gut instead of on the outside, so you can't see it.
4. Leaky gut. The official name for it is intestinal impermeability and it is where your gut lining is more perforated than it should be. Instead of a sieve, it starts leaking like a colander. What that means is that you can get waste particles, undigested food, pathogens and toxins leaking in through the digestive tract to the blood stream where they are not supposed to be. That stimulates your immune system to react, because it doesn't recognize these things as normal. That can promote more inflammation, raise cortisol, and it can actually lead to autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Diabetes type 1, Hashimoto's or Graves' disease, Celiac disease, Crohn's disease, psoriasis, M.S., and there are hundreds more.
What contributes to IBS?
- Diet – Refined carbs and sugar tend to overfeed the bad bacteria and crowd out the beneficial ones. Fiber helps to feed the good guys and if you haven't got enough, then, again, they're going to be a bit starved. And if you're eating foods you're sensitive to, it can cause symptoms.
- Food Processing – additives, preservatives, colorings, and other chemicals can actually increase inflammation in your system which can alter the delicate balance of the bacteria.
- Alcohol – it can irritate your gut lining and impair your liver function.
- Stress – If you have any stress in your life, then you're more likely to have digestive issues. Cortisol suppresses digestive functions as they are not a priority when you are in ‘fight or flight' mode.
- Toxins – certain chemicals can impact the gut, including heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury), pesticides, emulsifiers, and artificial sweeteners.
IBS is not something you have to put up with. Here are some tips that will help you;
- Eat slowly. How many times do we bolt our food down, especially when we're busy? Just set aside 10, 15 minutes to have your meal instead of doing it while you're working or on the computer or whatever you do. That really helps because the first stage of digestion is in the mouth, so when you chew and you're more conscious of eating, that's going to stimulate the production of stomach acid and enzymes.
- Stress management is vital. Set aside at least 10 minutes to yourself every day. Whether you do some deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation, or whatever it is that switches off your stress response, that's going to really help your digestion.
- Remove the food triggers. If you get any kind of symptoms of bloating or pain, or diarrhea or constipation, then start looking at what you're eating before that happens. If it tends to be wheat-based, like pasta or bread or crackers or whatever it is that's got gluten, then you might want try an elimination diet for a few weeks to see if that stops, because more often than not, that bloating is down to the food you're eating.
- Certain medications can be problematic for the gut. Don't take them unless you have been prescribed them by your doctor. This includes limiting painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetomol if you don't need them, as they can damage your digestive lining. Antibiotics we know strip out all your bacteria, good and bad. If you have to take antibiotics, then always take a good course of probiotics and take them at night so that you're not competing with the medication.
- Fibre – feeds your good bacteria, so we want lots of fiber in your diet, such as pulses, fruit and veg. If you can get more vegetables in your diet, you're going to be feeding those good bacteria.
- Probiotic foods – including live yoghurt, and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, miso, and kimchi.
- Prebiotic foods – foods that feed the good bacteria, including leeks, onions, garlic, green bananas, and cold cooked potatoes. They've got something in them called resistant starch and your good bacteria absolutely love it.
- Avoid processed foods – they contain preservatives, additives and emulsifiers that can alter your gut bacteria.
- Limit alcohol – can damage your gut lining. Reduce your alcohol and always have it with food.
- Eat organic – avoid pesticides and any weed killers.
- Identify any infections – get yourself tested for an underlying gut infection or imbalance that could be causing your symptoms. Contact us for details of our stool testing.
What are the common symptoms
Digestive symptoms; constipation, diarrheoa, bloating, gas, heartburn, reflux, pain, cramps, feeling of fullness, nausea, undigested food in stool, previous gastroenteritis or infection.
Systemic symptoms; headaches or migraines, joint pain or muscle pain, gum disease or bleeding gums, depression, anxiety, brain fog, mood swings, unexplained fatigue, weight gain, poor sleep, sinusitis, asthma or any autoimmune conditions like psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's, Graves', M.S., Diabetes type 1, Lupus, Celiac disease and many others.
If you want to resolve your IBS, it's worth investigating the root cause.
PS Whenever you’re ready… here are 4 ways we can help you balance your hormones:
1. Grab a copy of my book
“It's not you, it's your hormones – the essential guide for women over 40 to fight fat, fatigue and hormone havoc”. Click here
2. Join the Hormone Connection Facebook group
It’s our private Facebook community where you get daily access to me and the team, plus a whole load of super supportive like-minded women. Click here
3. Find out more about the 30 Days to Happy Hormones online programme
If you're ready to take action and need a structured plan to get you there, along with a supportive community and coaching, this could be the programme for you. Click here
4. Apply for a free Discovery Call with me or one of the team
If you’d like to speak to us about your own personal hormone issues OR how we can help support female employees at your organisation… just send me a message and I'll send you a link to our bookings calendar to arrange a call. Click here
- Perez-Cobas, A. E. et al. Gut microbiota disturbance during antibiotic therapy: a multi-omic approach. Gut. 62.
- Chassaing, B. et al. Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome.Nature. 519.
- Shell, E. R. Artificial Sweeteners May Change Our Gut Bacteria in Dangerous Ways. Scientific American. 312 (4).
- Samsel, A. & Seneff, S. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy. 15 (4).