Treating IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome with functional medicine

IBS – Irritable bowel syndrome is a common digestive condition that is thought to affect 40% of us at some time in our lives. IBS usually starts before the age of 35 and can be lifelong.

Typical symptoms include

These symptoms often come and go and are usually worse after eating and relieved by passing a stool.

When it comes to diagnosing IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there’s no specific test. It’s more about ruling out other causes of digestive discomfort such as a food allergy or a gut infection. IBS is very poorly understood by conventional medicine. It is very much seen as a group of symptoms that don’t have one clear cause.

As a resul,t the management of IBS is very much focused on symptom management. Unfortunately, in most cases, this only provides limited relief as it doesn’t address why the IBS is happening.

Standard medical options include various types of laxative agents to target constipation, anti-diarrhoeals to combat loose stools, and anti-spasmodics to help reduce gut cramps. In some cases, anti-depressants may also be prescribed as these have been shown to help with abdominal pain in some IBS sufferers.

The functional medicine approach to IBS is very different to conventional medicine. Functional medicine look at all aspects of digestive and nervous system health to uncover why, for each individual, the symptoms of IBS are occurring. It recognises that IBS is a multi-factorial condition where the causes are different for each person.

The first area to investigate is digestion. Low stomach acid, poor pancreatic juice secretion, or lack of bile can all trigger digestive problems. Food will be improperly broken down leading to it fermenting or putrefying in the intestines causing bloating, gas, discomfort and irregular stools.

Another common factor in IBS is damage to the delicate lining of the intestines where food is absorbed. This can lead to undigested food passing through the barrier and interacting with the immune system. The result is inflammation and pain. There are lots of causes of intestinal damage. Food reactions, gut infections, stress and imbalances in the friendly bacteria in the gut can all play a role. The first step is to confirm that intestinal damage is present. Then it’s a case of finding and tackling the cause and using natural supplements to repair the damage.

Functional testing is instrumental in uncovering the underlying causes in IBS. Stool tests can be used to assess digestive function, check for intestinal damage and identify gut infections and bacterial imbalances. Food intolerance testing can also help to identify problem foods which may be contributing to IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.

One particular imbalance that is very common in IBS is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. This leads to a lot of bloating and pain after eating and can trigger diarrhoea. Small intestine bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) can be detected with a specialised breath test. Once identified your functional medicine practitioner will be able to give you advise on a specific diet and supplement protocol to resolve the issue. The diet is commonly referred to as a low FODMAP diet and involves excluding foods that ferment in the intestines for a period of time which supplements are used to restore bacterial balance.

By taking a complete overview of digestive health functional medicine is often more successful in providing long term IBS relief than conventional treatment. Many clients find that improving their digestive health also has added benefits – increasing energy, improving sleep, optimising concentration and balancing mood.