April is IBS awareness month, and I wanted to take some time to discuss IBS, its different forms, how it’s diagnosed, and what you can do about it.
If you’ve ever established care with a Naturopathic Physician, you know how much we love to talk about the gut (and poop). 70-80% of the body’s immunity resides in the gut. About 100 million neurons responsible for mood and cognitive function also live in the gut. These are just a few reasons why acknowledging the gut is so important.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms such as abdominal pain and/or cramping, changes in the frequency of your stool, or changes in the form/appearance of your stool. IBS can look different in each person, and it’s important not to mistake IBS with IBD (Irritable bowel disease). IBD is an umbrella term used to describe inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases such as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease.
How is IBS Diagnosed?
IBS is diagnosed by gastrointestinal symptoms the patient experiences. Specialty testing and physical exams provide helpful information in ruling out possible underlying causes and other diagnoses, but they are not required for a diagnosis. The Rome IV criteria is the most widely used diagnostic guideline. The current criteria says:
A patient might have IBS if they have had recurrent abdominal pain on average at least one day/week in the last three months, associated with two or more of the following criteria:
- Pain related to defecation
- Changes in frequency of stool (more or less bowel movements)
- Changes in form (appearance) of stool (mucus, loose and watery, hard and lumpy, thin and pencil-like)
There Are Three Types of IBS
- IBS-D (diarrhea)
- IBS-C (constipation)
- IBS-M (mixed type): alternating between diarrhea and constipation
How Do I Treat IBS Naturally?
- Address stress and anxiety: As I mentioned before, a considerable amount of our brain signaling messengers live in the gut. If you’re stressed or anxious, it will affect the functionality of your gut. Practicing mindfulness and meditation are cost-effective ways to minimize stress and anxiety. Talk to your doctor about other ways to address anxiety and stress management.
- Avoid trigger foods: Common triggers include dairy, fried/fatty foods, gassy foods like beans and legumes, broccoli and cauliflower, sugar-free sweeteners, caffeinated drinks, and alcohol.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise reduces stress and can speed up the time it takes for your stool to travel in your colon. This is particularly important for patients that experience IBS-C (constipation). Studies have shown twice-weekly yoga is as effective as following a low-FODMAP diet.
- Prioritize sleep: More than half of people with IBS also report difficulties with sleep due to disturbances caused by their IBS or worsening of symptoms from poor sleep due to other causes. Regular exercise and proper sleep hygiene will support better sleep, reduce stress, and allow your body to restore.
- Stay hydrated: People with IBS-D (diarrhea) are at higher risk of dehydration due to fluid and electrolytes lost from bouts of frequent bowel movements. People with IBS-C (constipation) will also need more water to help keep stools hydrated for better movement through the intestines.
How Can My Naturopathic Doctor Help Me Manage IBS?
Your naturopathic doctor can help you manage your IBS by further investigating sneaky underlying causes like Celiacs, dysbiosis (too many bad bacteria, too little good bacteria), food sensitivities, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), and H. Pylori. In addition to testing, naturopathic physicians have several modalities such as acupuncture, botanical medicine, and dietary counseling to create individualized treatment plans to suit your specific needs. We are experts at treating the body as a whole. So whether it’s stress and anxiety, insomnia, reactivity to food, or other more severe causes, naturopathic medicine has plenty to offer in treating IBS.
If you’d like to know more about how naturopathic medicine can help you, feel free to schedule a free 10-minute meet and greet with Dr. Watkins at 480-588-6856.