What exactly is IBS?

IBS actually means Irritable Bowel Syndrome and is associated with a group of symptoms that affect the large and small intestines. It is estimated that IBS affects 10 to 15 percent of adults.

Though no specific cause is known, several factors may contribute to IBS, including genetics, lifestyle, allergies, infection or a change in intestinal bacteria type or amount. Certain foods and stress may trigger symptoms. Diet changes, stress management and a healthy, active lifestyle may help manage IBS.

Symptoms of IBS vary, but typically include one or more of the following:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Cramping

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Bloating

  • Gassiness


So lets look at some of the common causes and contributors to IBS

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, promoting more inflammation.

Contributors to IBS?

  1. 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.

  2. Food Processing – additives, preservatives, colorings, and other chemicals can actually increase inflammation in your system which can alter the delicate balance of the bacteria.

  3. Alcohol – it can irritate your gut lining and impair your liver function.

  4. 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.

  5. Toxins – certain chemicals can impact the gut, including heavy metals (lead, mercury), pesticides, emulsifiers, and artificial sweeteners.

IBS is not something you have to put up with. So seeing your dietitian can help you manage IBS through diet and work with you to identify which foods and habits might cause trouble and you will learn healthy eating strategies to reduce the risk of pain.

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