It's incredible to think that the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are not very clear considering how many people are suffering with it.
In America alone this condition seems to be affecting 20% of the population! And it's very much the same in all the Western world.
Not only they don't know what causes IBS, but there's no way for a doctor to make a definite diagnosis.
There is no single trigger and no single set of identifying symptoms, which can come and go in a day, or plague sufferers for months or years.
Experts used to think that IBS occurred only in the colon, the last 5 feet of the intestine. We now know that IBS occurs throughout the entire digestive tract, from the mouth to the colon.
To understand the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (also called spastic colon) you need to understand how the digestive system works.
In normal digestion, when you eat any food, muscles in your oesophagus, stomach and intestine react with gentle contractions (known as peristalsis) that move the food along the digestive tract.
You don't normally feel these contractions and the food is pushed forward without you even noticing it. Nutrients are absorbed and the residual is eventually eliminated in the stools.
When you suffer with IBS, things change. The normally rhythmic waves are disrupted and become irregular and uncoordinated.
These crazy, out-of-sync muscle movements are behind the pain of IBS.
Sometimes, the nervous bowel contracts too much or too forcefully, so food moves through the intestines too quickly, resulting in diarrhoea.
Other times, the intestinal muscles contract but don't relax again, or they contract very slowly, resulting in constipation.
This interferes with the normal movement of food and waste material and leads to an accumulation of mucus and toxins in the intestine.
This accumulated material sets up a partial obstruction of the digestive tract, trapping gas and stools.
We all have intestinal gas, but for people with IBS, it can become trapped inside, resulting in bloating and distention. In addition, the intestinal nerves of people with IBS are highly sensitive, so that even minor bloating can have them doubled over in pain.
There are no physical signs of disease in bowel tissue with this disorder and by and large the symptoms of IBS vary from person to person. There's more information on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome on the next page.
Scientists and researchers agree on one important fact: there isn't just one single cause for IBS but different things can be responsible for the symptoms of IBS in different people. Here are the most common:
STRESS increases the motility (the rhythmic contractions that propel the food along the digestive tract) of the colon and leads to abdominal pain and irregular bowel function. Stress can also cause spasm in the bowel, leading to constipation and diarrhoea.
INSUFFICIENT INTAKE OF DIETARY FIBRE diminishes the ability of the colon to propel food through the digestive tract.
FOOD ALLERGIES cause irritation and inflammation in the digestive tract, causing irregular bowel function.
Food allergy as a cause of IBS has been recognised since the early 1900s. More recent studies have shown that the majority of patients with IBS (approx. 2/3) have at least one food allergy and some have multiple food allergies.
The most common allergens that most often are among the causes of irritable bowel syndrome are dairy products, at 40 to 45%, and grains, at 40 to 60%. Many patients have noted marked clinical improvement when using elimination diets.
MEALS TOO HIGH IN SUGAR may be the key factor that makes IBS far more common in the United States and Western countries.
Meals high in refined sugar and carbohydrates can contribute to IBS by decreasing intestinal motility as they're usually low in fiber.
Also, when blood sugar levels rise too rapidly, the normal rhythmic contractions of the gastrointestinal tract slow down and in some portions stop altogehter.
Also, excessive sugar and carbohydrates change the environment for organisms in the digestive tract, favoring organisms that can cause abnormal bowel function.
HIGH FAT DIETS cause the bowel to work overtime to digest fat. When you eat high-fat foods, your bowel contracts even more than normal and for people with IBS this means lots of pain and discomfort. Eating less fat can help prevent a flare-up.
Additionally, high-fat foods tend to have very little fibre and when it comes to controlling IBS, fibre is key.
One theory is that the intestinal hormones responsible for bowel motility are behind this disorder. These hormones - cholecystokinin (CCK), motilin, and vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) - cause abnormal contractions of the smooth muscle of the digestive tract.
IBS is originally triggered in about 25% of people by infection caused by a virus or bacterium. The infection causes inflammation in the mucosal tissues, which stimulate T-cell mediated and smooth muscle changes. When this inflammatory response continues over time the bowel learns to be over- or underactive to stimuli. There is usually a good response in postinfection IBS with use of probiotic supplements.
Parasites and candida overgrowth are overlooked causes of irritable bowel syndrome. One study showed that 18% of the study participants had treatable parasitic infections, while another found giardia in 9% and parasites in 15% of the study population. Ask your doctor to order a comprehensive digestive and stool analysis with parasitology to determine if parasites or candida are making you sick.
The overuse of antibiotics, antacids or laxatives, which disturb the bacterial microflora of the bowel, may also be one of the causes of irritable bowel syndrome. Acidophilus, bifidobacteria and Saccharomyces boulardii supplements can help restore intestinal balance.
(For a full list of products to help rebalance your intestinal flora go to the Nutriglow website)
Even if we don't know what the exact causes of irritable bowel syndrome are and what disrupts the workings of the intestines in the first place, it's possible to identify what triggers YOUR flare ups of the condition.
Because each person's case of IBS is different, the key to relieving discomfort is to keep a food and symptom diary or IBS Journal.
That diligence will pay off in helping you identify which foods to avoid and which appear to help.
Another way of going about it is to follow an elimination diet for 5 to 7 days and gradually reintroduce foods, one at a time and keep a record of any symptoms.
One thing is certain, you CAN control IBS instead of having it control you.
The next few pages will discuss what healing foods are suitable to help prevent flare ups of IBS and which ones are more likely to cause problems.
This book will show you how you can cure yourself of your IBS naturally, safely and permanently by giving your body what it needs.
1) Balch, P., CNC, (2000) Prescription for Nutritional Healing: A Practical A-To-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements, New York: Avery.
2) Bauer, J., MS, RD, CDN, (2007) Joy Bauer's Food Cures, New York: Rodale.
3) Lipski, E., Ph.D., CCN, (2005) Digestive Wellness, Fourth Edition: Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion, New York: McGraw-Hill
4) Wait, M., (2007) Food Cures: Breakthrough Nutritional Prescriptions for Everything from Colds to Cancer, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.
5) Yeager, S., (2007) The Doctors Book of Food Remedies, New York: Rodale Inc.
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Next issue will be out
Wed 15th May 2013
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A combination of herbs designed to calm the symptoms of IBS.
Peppermint Complex combines plant oils to help maintain the health and
tranquility of the digestive system including peppermint, ginger,
fennel, chamomile and cardamom.