Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a chronic large intestine disorder, with symptoms that occur together. The symptoms include cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, or both. The symptoms can be minor, but for some, they can be significant and disrupt daily life. Though the symptoms can vary in both severity and duration for each person, they last at least three months for at least three days a month.
People with IBS can have the symptoms listed above as well as:
Changes in the appearance of bowel movements
Changes in how often you are having a bowel movement
Heartburn and indigestion
A lot of gas or bloating
Mucus in the stool
Harder or looser stools than normal
Feeling like you need to poop after you just going
A protruding belly
Here are the Mayo Clinic’s precise thoughts and words on the causes and triggers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016):
“The precise cause of IBS isn't known. Symptoms of IBS can be triggered by:
Food. The role of food allergy or intolerance in IBS isn't fully understood. A true food allergy rarely causes IBS. But many people have worse IBS symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or beverages, including wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk and carbonated drinks.
Stress. Most people with IBS experience worse or more-frequent signs and symptoms during periods of increased stress. But while stress may aggravate symptoms, it doesn't cause them.”
I respectfully must disagree with most of their views here. 20+ years of helping people overcome and heal from IBS with Eastern and Functional medicine has experientially offered me some conflicting views from conventional medicines’ understandings of IBS.
Let’s review their statements one at a time and allow me to respond…
The Mayo Clinic Says: “The role of food allergy or intolerance in IBS isn't fully understood.”
Quinn Says: That is an understatement, especially in the world of conventional medicine.
The Mayo Clinic Says: A true food allergy rarely causes IBS.
Quinn Says: Incorrect, most often it is a food allergy.
The Mayo Clinic Says: But many people have worse IBS symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or beverages, including wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk and carbonated drinks.
Quinn Says: Possibly these foods… and possibly any other foods too.
The Mayo Clinic Says: Most people with IBS experience worse or more-frequent signs and symptoms during periods of increased stress.
Quinn Says: They got this part accurate.
The Mayo Clinic Says: But while stress may aggravate symptoms, it doesn't cause them
Quinn Says: Inaccurate. Stress can be a key causative factor in IBS.
Why the discrepancies?
I suppose this starts even with the “diagnosis” of “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”. This is no diagnosis. It means nothing. It offers no actual diagnosis or insight into what one is experiencing or why. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” is a statement of the obvious. If you have chronic gas, or bloating, or abdominal pain, or diarrhea… of course your bowel is irritated. If it wasn’t irritated, you wouldn’t be having these ongoing symptoms. This is as if you go to the doctor with a pain in your head and you get “diagnosed” with a headache. This is as if you go to the doctor because you are coughing and you are diagnosed with a cough. Well, thank you for the amazing medical diagnostic insight!
I have witnessed over the years that this “diagnosis” of IBS has some sort of magical and mystical power over some. Some who receive this “diagnosis” accept this condition as part of who they are. Since their all-knowing medical doctors have decreed upon them the seemingly unalterable and unchangeable condition of IBS, some accept this condition as part of their reality and become someone with IBS.
The mutual acceptance of this reality of IBS between doctor and patient seems to magically absolve each from further exploring WHY they are experiencing an irritable bowel and what to do to actually overcome and eliminate the IBS. Too often, the patient assumes they now must simply live out their days with an irritable bowel, and the doctor will do their best to manage this inevitably unchanging problem.
I see it all the time.
While many clients seek out my support specifically to overcome their current IBS symptoms, I can’t even tell you how many times I have sat with a new client during an initial consultation and I learn they are experiencing a wide variety of digestive disorders. As we discuss all these symptoms, the client then offers a statement of fact similar to, “Well yes, I have digestive issues because I have IBS.” Although this is what the client says, this is what I hear, “Well yes, I have all these digestive issues and my doctor has diagnosed me with IBS and I know that won’t change because it is just part of who I am and I know it will always be this way and there really is nothing that we can do about it because that is my diagnosis and I know there is not a lot of point discussing this further because my doctor said I have IBS .”
I don’t fault the client for adopting this perception. Perceptions like these are osmotically absorbed by us all. Perceptions like this are the remnants of the decaying paradigm of thought that the “doctor knows best”.
With all healthcare, I begin with the foundational premise that any symptom is happening for a reason. Like all other imbalances and pathologies, IBS is happening for a reason. Something is causing the symptoms.
Get ready for it…
Here comes some deep wisdom…
By definition, with “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, something is irritating the bowels. Nobody just has an irritated bowel. If you detect and remove the irritant, the result is your bowels are not irritated. When you stop irritating your bowels you have fewer digestive distress symptoms, and your bowels can start to heal.
Yes, it is that easy.
Unfortunately, we now live in a time when too often the thought with treating IBS is to use drugs to suppress the irritation in the bowel by suppressing the immune system and then too often eventually the removal of the irritated bowel instead of simply removing the factor(s) irritating the bowel. There is a big difference between these two approaches. One leads to drugs that suppress the immune system and removal of important body parts. The other leads to eliminating taxations on the body so it can do what it was designed to do... heal and repair itself.
While many factors can irritate the bowels, I find we can group these irritants into two primary categories- external factors and internal factors.
The primary external factor: FOOD
Your digestive system is always responding to what you are eating. The industrialization of food has dramatically changed since the mid-1990’s with the skyrocketing use of pesticides, genetic modification, preservatives, colorings, and antibiotics. As a result, the quality of our food has been compromised and our digestive systems are overworked trying to digest it all.
Think about this, more than 10 years ago, the only place you could find gluten-free food was at a natural health food store. Now you can find gluten-free food in virtually every grocery store and at every restaurant. Why is this? Is it a fad? I don’t think so. This is a sign of the times reflecting the fact that our digestive and immune systems are overtaxed, overwhelmed, and irritated.
The food irritants I most commonly see are dairy, gluten, and eggs. However, these are only problematic foods if they are problematic for you. One person’s medicine is another person’s poison. For example, I have seen food allergy testing results that show allergies to spinach. While spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods, full of vitamins, it must be avoided by those that are adversely reactive to it. Another example- garlic can be a great anti-microbial and anti-fungal. In many cases, an overgrowth of internal pathogenic bacteria in the gut will respond very well to garlic. However, it all depends on where the imbalance of bacteria resides within the gut. Garlic may also significantly exacerbate certain imbalances of bacteria in certain places within the digestive system. The point is, the food we eat will either help you or hurt you, and these will be unique to each individual.
The primary internal factor: STRESS
The gut is referred to as our “second brain”. There is a direct connection between our emotions and our digestion. Ever have a “gut feeling” about something? Ever have a “nervous stomach”. The stress, anxiety, fear, guilt, resentment, and anger we hold on to is often a significant irritant to our digestive and immune systems.
Let’s make a quick shift to Eastern Medicine perspectives. The purpose of eating food is to extract from the food the nutrients to fuel the body, then eliminate the waste. This is a process of nourishing the body with what is beneficial and letting go of what is not. We do this same thing with life experiences and emotions. In our process of living, we have experiences. Hopefully, we use the experience to grow and to “nourish” our being. And hopefully, we can let go of the “waste” or that which is no longer serving us. Too much stress and anxiety, negative emotions, unfulfilled desires, unprocessed feelings and experiences can overwhelm our normal processes of dealing with and sorting out our feelings and experiences causing these to stagnate. This stagnant energy then impedes the moving process of the digestive system causing digestive distress and the symptoms of IBS.
If you are ready to heal your IBS, then let’s jump right in and get to the root cause of the irritation on the bowels. Is it something you are eating? Is it stress, anxiety, anger or some other emotion? Of course, it is possible that the IBS is caused by a mix of both. At the same time, it may be neither as well. It is possible that the main irritation of the bowel is something very different than food or emotions- such as imbalances in the natural gut microbiome or an overgrowth of pathogenic yeast. Digestive issue maybe be due to pathogenic bacteria and even parasites. Digestive disorders can also be due to many other reasons. It is not uncommon that IBS symptoms is the result of a mix of diverse reasons. This is what we will figure out together.
After decades of clinical practice, I have found there are basically two steps in helping people overcome IBS and other digestive disorders:
Step 1- Detect and eliminate factors that are adversely affecting the balance of our mind and body.
Step 2- Heal the system. The most beneficial therapies for healing are acupuncture, the right supplements, food therapy, lifestyle changes and Chinese herbs.
The result of accurately implementing these two steps first eliminates the irritation of the bowels allowing for the cessation of digestive distress symptoms and then heals the gastrointestinal tract and immune function, strengthening the system and making it more resilient. The result of accurately implementing these two steps is the elimination of IBS.
Conventional medicine’s approach to treating IBS is simply lacking and ineffective because the approach seldom seeks to understand what is irritating the bowels. At best, conventional medicine’s approach offers temporary management of symptoms … and typically with pharmaceuticals which then come with their own side effects. The main irritants are seldom understood and remain as a constant factor
Looking at things differently allows you to see things differently. By doing things differently you will inevitably get different.
If you are ready to get different, I invite you to do different. Give us a call so we can start to figure out your specific needs.
Article by Quinn Akira Takei, Doctor of Oriental Medicine(NM), Licensed Acupuncturist, Chinese Herbalist, and Holistic Health & Wellness Coach. The Center: Natural Health Specialists, 8404 Six Forks Road, Suite 201, Raleigh, NC 27615. (919) 848-0200. www.TheCenterNHS.com