Irritable bowel syndrome, better known as IBS, is one of the most common digestive disorders seen by physicians. Twice as many women suffer from IBS when compared to their male counterparts. IBS is not a life sentence, and most people that have it can lead active and productive lives if they follow the best treatment protocol for their situation.

In IBS, the normal rhythmic contractions of the digestive tract, referred to as peristalsis, become uncoordinated and irregular. This interferes with the normal digestive and elimination process of food and wastes respectively, and can lead to an accumulation of waste material resulting in bloating, distention, constipation, and gas. Symptoms of IBS include alternating constipation and diarrhea, abdominal pain, mucus in the stools, nausea, flatulence, bloating, and cramping. Usually, specific foods trigger symptoms, and pain is relieved after a bowel movement. Even if an individual with IBS is eating regular meals, uncoordinated muscular contractions can result in malabsorption. Nutritionists typically take this into account when designing a nutritional plan for IBS, and include 30% more protein than normal, as well as increased vitamins and minerals, which can become quickly depleted in with chronic diarrhea.

From a diagnostic standpoint, this is a vexing disorder. There are no physical signs of disease in bowel tissue with IBS, and its cause or causes are not well understood. Diagnosis of IBS requires ruling out disorders that can cause similar symptoms, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, and even lactose intolerance.

Many other conditions can be related to IBS, including candidiasis, colon cancer, diabetes, gallbladder disease, malabsorption disorders, pancreatic insufficiency, ulcers, parasitic infection such as amebiasis and giardiasis, fibromyalgia, and most commonly, dietary allergies and intolerances. When presented with a case of IBS, each of these factors must be addressed. When working on a patient with IBS in clinical practice, I find it quite common for a CDSA (comprehensive digestive stool analysis), and an IgG RAST (food allergy test), to come back positive with parasitosis or candidiasis, and several dietary allergies respectively.

From a nutritional perspective, test results and personal history dictate the course of treatment. If dietary allergies and intolerances are identified, they must be eliminated. If an over growth of candida albicans is identified, then that must be treated medically and nutritionally. IBS can even be brought under control in conditions that normally would leave the patient slipping between the cracks of the medical care system. For example, let’s say a patient presents with classic IBS symptoms, has a negative CDSA, maybe 1 food allergy, and no bacterial, parasitic or fungal overgrowth. Lastly, all of the aforementioned associated conditions were ruled out. Instead of jumping on the “it’s all in your head” bandwagon, a trial implementation of gluten and dairy restriction, stress reduction, and targeted supplementation can yield positive results. If all else fails, I turn to a nutritional program called the specific carbohydrate diet that is very effective in most gastrointestinal disorders.

Supplements that may be helpful for IBS include, beneficial bacteria such as acidophilus and bifidus, evening primrose oil, psyllium, glucomannan, peppermint, fennel, B-complex, and aloe vera.

Dietary strategies that are effective include, low fiber diets, high fiber diets, allergen identification and elimination, rotation diets, candida diets, and the specific carbohydrate diet.

While IBS can be a frustrating disorder that interferes with the quality of life, nutritional protocols are available to help one gain control over this frustrating disorder, and return to an active lifestyle.

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