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  • Writer's pictureRachel Davies

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: 101

Updated: Mar 22

Although the prevalence is probably higher, the incidence of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in the UK is estimated to be up to 20% of the population. IBS is a problem I see so often in clinic and it is problematic on many different levels. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, you may well have been suffering with it for years and, while a diagnosis can – at first– offer comfort in finally having a recognised problem, the satisfaction is short lived because often that’s where all support ends, and you’re left no further forward in actually fixing what the problem is.

The difficulty begins because IBS is essentially meaningless; it’s a catch-all term used to encompass a huge variety of digestive issues. In my experience, it’s likely to be one of the following five conditions.

1. SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)

Around 60% of people with IBS will have SIBO. Though you might have heard about good (and bad) bacteria in the gut, really what experts are talking about is the balance of bacteria in the large intestine: the colon. The small intestine shouldn’t have any bacteria in abundance, and each day the body should perform a flush to sweep bacteria from the small intestine and into the large intestine. This flush is called the ‘migrating motor complex’. For a huge variety of reasons (historic food poisoning being the most common, but also low levels of stomach acid or adhesions play a role, among others such as stress) the bacteria are not swept away. The trouble is that these bacteria can ferment the food in your small intestine, causing gas, belching, bloating, pain and a variety of other symptoms, including constipation and/or loose stools, and even anxiety. A breath test can establish which gases are present, and we can devise an action plan based on your results.

2. Lactose intolerance or other food sensitivities

This is when your body is not able to tolerate lactose, a type of sugar found naturally in milk and other dairy products. Essentially, bacteria in your intestine feed on these milk sugars, leading to a host of IBS symptoms, like bloating and gas, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea. It can go hand in hand with other digestive complaints, such as coeliac disease or increased intestinal permeability (‘leaky gut’). Equally identifying other food sensitivities is key piece of establishing the cause(s) of IBS.

3.Chronic Stress

The link between the gut, the microbiome and the brain is now well established and the impact of chronic stress and sympathetic nervous system activation on digestive health cannot be underestimated. Chronic stress impacts intestinal permeability, microbial balance of the large intestine and down-regulates our digestive secretions such that our digestive system is less effective. Getting a handle on stress is a fundamental component of most IBS healing plans.

4. Dysbiosis

This is an imbalance in the levels of beneficial (good) and pathogenic (bad) bacteria in the large intestine or colon. This is now common due to overuse of antibiotics and alcohol, an increase in high sugar diets, and stress. Symptoms can vary from a sluggish bowel or diarrhoea, pain, bloating and flatulence, to chronic bad breath, joint pain, fatigue and food sensitivities. Dysbiosis is also implicated in a variety of health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. A stool test can help establish whether your gut bacteria are out of balance, along with a host of other markers that might be useful in getting to the root of your digestive problems.

5. Yeast overgrowth

Where the gut environment becomes out of balance (due to dysbiosis), yeast can thrive. Diets high in sugar feed the yeast – although if you think you might have a yeast overgrowth, it’s worth noting that long-term yeast problems can mean that the yeast cells are pathogenic or disease causing, and that the yeast has switched its metabolism to also be able to digest protein and fat. Symptoms of yeast overgrowth include recurrent thrush, gas or bloating, fatigue, bad breath, cravings for sweet foods, joint pain and brain fog. A stool test can establish the presence of candida or other yeast overgrowth.

But here's the good news, IBS doesn't have to be a lifelong sentence. There IS lots you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle point of view to support improvement in your symptoms. Working with me we will get to the root cause of your IBS and I will create a personalised plan to support YOUR body and get you on the road to being your best self again.

Some people struggle with digestive problems for years. If you are ready to make fixing your gut health a priority, I would love to work with you. Please click the link below to book a FREE 20-minute, no-obligation Health & Wellbeing Review Call.

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