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Functional Medicine for IBS

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What is Irritable Bowel Disease?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional condition of the bowel that is diagnosed using clinical criteria.  IBS affects around 11% of the population globally. Around 30% of people who experience the symptoms of IBS will consult physicians for their gastrointestinal symptoms.

These people do not have significantly different abdominal symptoms to those who do not consult, but they do have greater levels of anxiety and lower quality of life. Internationally, there is a female predominance in the prevalence of IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the digestive system.

Signs and Symptoms of IBS

The signs and symptoms of IBS vary but are usually present for a long time. The symptom severity can also be varied but typical common symptoms include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Passing mucus when you pass a stool
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain, cramping or stomach pains
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Gas production and passing excessive amounts of wind
  • Tiredness and lack and energy
  • Changes in the appearance of bowel movement
  • Changes in how often you are having a bowel movement
  • These symptoms often come and go and are usually worse after eating and relieved by passing a stool

What Caused IBS?

The precise cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome isn’t known. Factors that appear to play a role include:

  • Muscle contractions in the intestine. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract as they move food through your digestive tract. Contractions that are stronger and last longer than normal can cause gas, bloating and diarrhoea. Weak intestinal contractions can slow food passage and lead to hard, dry stools.
  • Nervous system. Abnormalities in the nerves in your digestive system may cause you to experience greater than normal discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool. Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can cause your body to overreact to changes that normally occur in the digestive process, resulting in pain, diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Severe infection. IBS can develop after a severe bout of diarrhoea (gastroenteritis) caused by bacteria or a virus. IBS might also be associated with a surplus of bacteria in the intestines (bacterial overgrowth).
  • Early life stress and stress levels. People exposed to stressful events, especially in childhood, tend to have more symptoms of IBS.
  • Changes in gut microbes. Examples include changes in bacteria overgrowth, fungi and viruses, which normally reside in the intestines and play a key role in health. Research indicates that the microbes in people with IBS might differ from those in healthy people.
  • A common factor in IBS is damage to the delicate lining of the intestines where food is absorbed. This can lead to undigested food particles passing through the barrier and interacting with the immune system. The result is inflammation and pain. There are lots of causes of intestinal damage. Food reactions, gut infections, stress and imbalances in the friendly bacteria in the gut can all play a role. The first step is to confirm that intestinal damage is present. Then it’s a case of finding and tackling the cause and using natural supplements to repair the damage. Functional testing is instrumental in uncovering the underlying causes of IBS. Stool tests can be used to assess digestive function, check for intestinal damage and identify gut infections and bacterial imbalances. Food intolerance testing can also help to identify problem foods that may be contributing to IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.


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.


Risk factors

Many people have occasional signs and symptoms of IBS. But you’re more likely to have the syndrome if you:

  • Are young. IBS occurs more frequently in people under age 50.
  • Are female. In the United States, IBS is more common among women. Estrogen therapy before or after menopause also is a risk factor for IBS.
  • Have a family history of IBS. Genes may play a role, as may share factors in a family’s environment or a combination of genes and environment.
  • Have anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. A history of sexual, physical or emotional abuse also might be a risk factor.



Chronic constipation or diarrhoea can cause haemorrhoids.

In addition, IBS is associated with:

  • Poor quality of life. Many people with moderate to severe IBS report poor quality of life. Research indicates that people with IBS miss three times as many days from work as do those without bowel symptoms.
  • Mood disorders. Experiencing the signs and symptoms of IBS can lead to depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety also can make IBS worse.

IBS and Functional Medicine

IBS is usually a lifelong problem and it can have a big impact on your everyday life. The last 20 years have seen an increasing amount of research on the role of modifiable lifestyle factors in improving symptoms for patients with IBS.  Studies on perceived food intolerance show that 64-89% of IBS patients report their symptoms to be triggered by meals or specific inflammatory foods. There is no structural change to the gut but there is a change in how the gut functions.

So approaching IBS from a functional medicine model can help. A functional medicine approach aims to restore proper function, improve health and eliminate symptoms. Functional medicine interventions might comprise solely of dietary changes. But additional options include herbal remedies, lifestyle changes and stress management techniques. By taking a complete overview of digestive health functional medicine is often more successful in providing long term IBS relief than conventional treatment. It recognises that IBS is a multi-factorial condition where the causes are different for each person. Using accurate Food Intolerance Testing may help patients identify food triggers. Interesting studies have shown reduced IBS symptoms after the introduction of low fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (low-FODMAP diet ) in patients with suspected or proven fructose or lactose malabsorption. In addition, probiotics may improve IBS symptoms through manipulation of the gut microbiota.

As a functional medicine doctor, I can assess the function of organs and organ systems in your body as well which are crucial for healthy digestion. Neurotransmitter imbalances, sub-optimal stomach acid levels, liver problems, damaged gut microbiome, and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis imbalances are all potential causes of IBS that are rarely investigated.

Once the cause of your symptoms being analysed,  then we plan how to control or alleviate your symptoms entirely. Not only can your symptoms disappear, but your whole body can drastically improve in its overall function.

It is very interesting that digestive disorders may have an impact on different systems in our body,  developing,’brain fog’, joint aches, sleep disorders, low libido, and weight imbalances.



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