Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The bowels have a way of letting you know that you're not being kind to your body. They get irritable! And that's a syndrome and a symptom of dysfunction.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder representing 30-50 per cent of all referrals to a gastro-intestinal specialist. However, "bowel talk" isn't exactly the most comfortable topic in our society, so there are probably even a greater number of unreported cases.

It appears that women are more commonly affected with an irritable bowel than men, a 3:1 ratio. This ratio may not be accurate since men are more likely to put off going to the doctor.

According to the Merck Manual, IBS is a motility disorder involving the small intestine and large bowel. It's associated with variable degrees of abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea, largely as a reaction to stress in a susceptible individual. Some outdated terms for IBS are nervous indigestion, spastic colitis, mucous colitis and intestinal neurosis.

Symptoms of the Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome ss commonly characterized by the following symptoms: abdominal pain and distention; altered bowel function; constipation/diarrhea; excessive production of mucus in the colon; symptoms of indigestion (flatulence, nausea, anorexia), and varying degrees of anxiety and depression. It is important to rule out other conditions since IBS mimics many other diseases.

Diagnostic procedures can be quite extensive and painful. Ask anyone who has been through a procosigmoidscopy, colonoscopy, barium enema or rectal biopsy. Treatment from a holistic point of view can include: diet modification, identifying allergies and intolerances; decreasing sugar in the diet; supplementing with friendly bacteria, and identifying and treating psychological factors.

Diet modification for IBS through the eyes of a conventional doctor usually revolves increasing dietary fibre. This isn't always the best idea, considering that many people are allergic to the wheat in wheat bran (the most commonly ingested fibre). People suffering from constipation can benefit from increased fibre, but it adversely affects those who have diarrhea. Other diet modifications may include adding nutrients such as a vitamin B complex, which is needed for proper muscle tone and proper absorption. In addition B vitamins help the body deal with stress, an important contributor to IBS.

Garlic also aids in digestion and the destruction of toxins in the colon. Lastly, aloe vera juice has been shown to have healing affects on the digestive tract.

Food allergies and intolerance are important factors in IBS. Recent studies reveal that a majority of IBS suffers have a least one food allergy and some have multiple allergies. The most common allergies are grains and dairy products. By taking the time to notice which food aggravates your symptoms you can positively affect the symptoms of IBS.

Beware the Sweet

Consuming large amounts of refined sugar elevates blood sugar levels too quickly, slowing down the rhythmic contractions of the gastrointestinal tract (GI). This creates the potential for overgrowth of bad bacteria, which contributes to IBS. Since North Americans are known for their large consumption of sugar, reducing refined sugars in the diet may be one of the most important factors in reducing the occurrence of IBS.

Regular use of probiotics such as acidophilus, or friendly bacteria, replaces the unfriendly bacteria with friendly bugs. This helps the normal flora of the GI tract regain and maintain a healthy gut ecology -- important for the every day health of both healthy people and IBS sufferers.

Psychological factors involved in IBS play a significant role in its manifestation. Anyone who suffers from IBS will likely have experienced mental/emotional problems which could include severe anxiety, fatigue, hostile feelings depression and sleep disturbances.

The underlying cause of an irritable bowel is likely a combination of both psychological and organic factors. By addressing the needs of both, IBS can be managed and even cured. Like any illnesses, when our bodies reveal various symptoms to us, it is a warning to take good care of ourselves.

1. The Merck Manual, Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories, Rahway, N.J. 15th Edition, 1987.

2. Murray, Michael and Pizzorno, Joseph, Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Health, California, Revised 2nd Edition, 1998.

3. Balch, James & Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Nutritional Healing Avery Publishing Group, New York, Second Edition, 1997.

Canadian Health Reform Products Ltd.


By Jamie van den Bossche

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