IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is a functional condition of the digestive tract that may involve diarrhea, constipation, alternating diarrhoea and constipation, urgent stools, gas, bloating and discomfort with meals or bowel movements. This condition is well treated with naturopathic medicine. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that in order to diagnose it, other causes of these symptoms need to be ruled out. However, new data about IBS has amounted and a clearer understanding has taken shape over the last decade, with a strong link to bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine.
Possible Root Causes of IBS:
-Post-infectious (after food poisoning, even if years later)
-Bacterial overgrowth, fungal overgrowth or dysbiosis
-Chronic or frequent antibiotic use
-Food intolerances or sensitivities
-Weakened upper digestive mechanisms (stomach, liver, pancreas, small intestine)
The Role of Stress:
Stress is the elephant in the room as another major contributing factor in IBS. Most people with IBS have been told by their medical doctor that they should reduce their stress, as IBS is a stress-related condition. It is true that the nervous system is vital for good digestion, but many medical patients have been given the impression that their condition is not being taken seriously because it is deemed “psychological.” With a lack of specific and customized recommendations that effectively buffer the body from the effects of every-day stress, simply naming the mind-body connection fails to help people. Our naturopaths talk with patients about every area of their lives, creating plans that are feasible and simple and yet majorly reduce stress as a factor in their symptoms (even though getting rid of the work/family/life causes of stress is not always possible). It is also important to address the fatigue, anxiety, insomnia or other results of chronic stress, as these can all leave the digestive system depleted and dysfunctional if left untreated.
Bloodwork is a regular part of how our naturopaths assess patients. If there is intensive cramping with blood in the stool then medical imaging may be required. In addition to that, there are specific tests we can use to look deeper into the root causes of IBS symptoms as well as any potential stumbling blocks along the healing process.
These are the tests we use when appropriate to guide treatment of IBS:
-Comprehensive stool testing
-Lactulose breath testing
-Food intolerance testing
-Organic Acids testing (urine) – used when there are more mental health or sleep problems
How we are different:
Our Toronto naturopaths use a coordinated approach that includes nutrition, herbal medicine, supplementation and lifestyle counselling to directly and effectively address the causes of IBS symptoms. Testing is timed so that patients get the most out of it at crucial turning points in their treatment plan, rather than doing it all right off the bat. We work closely with a nutritionist to help patients implement dietary changes, and we then help patients return to a diverse diet as they progress through treatment rather than getting stuck in a restrictive way of eating, either quickly or slowly depending on the causes of their IBS and their response to treatment.