In last week’s blog post we talked about IBS, what it is, and some possible causes for it. This week we want to focus on treatment options for it.
Conventional medical treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) focus on managing symptoms and include dietary fibre, laxatives, antispasmodics, anti-diarrheal medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, and some newer medications that alter intestinal motility and sensitivity. A low-dose probiotic is sometimes prescribed by medical doctors, but the results of such treatment are mixed and depend on both the patient as well as on the bacterial strain that’s used.
The difference in how our Toronto naturopaths approach IBS treatment relates to the target of treatment. Unlike in medical treatment, where the goal is to eliminate symptoms, the goal of naturopathic treatment is to eliminate the underlying causes of symptoms as well as to restore optimal function to every level of the digestive system and the body. Our patients undergo a detailed, holistic, functional assessment process that puts together the puzzle of how these patterns came about.
Functional Medicine Approach
A functional assessment includes bowel function, the microbiome, inflammation levels, hormone balance, stomach, pancreas and liver function (all of which play into digestion). The history and development of symptoms is taken into account and may include food poisoning, stress, infections, food sensitivities, diet changes, and medications. Relevant tests are ordered which usually include bloodwork and may also include stool testing or lactulose breath testing. Finally, the digestive system is put into the context of the patient’s whole health and lifestyle, including a thorough diet review.
A distinguishing factor of our Toronto naturopaths’ treatment plans for IBS is that they have several distinct phases. Rather than relying on one substance to resolve symptoms, we deconstruct the problem and rebuild proper function one step at a time. This is akin to the art of gardening: one would never continuously throw fertilizer or pesticide at a garden, but rather start with weeding, till the soil, apply the right substances in proper sequence, and plant seeds, all the while ensuring there is generous water and sunlight. We view the gut as a garden. In our arsenal of treatments are herbal medicines, supplements that help restore function and integrity to the intestines, potent probiotics that are chosen and timed appropriately for each patient (generally not as a first line therapy but in later phases of treatment), and nutritional plans that are vital to the success of treatment.