A natural medicine practitioner’s viewpoint
What is is IBS? New criteria for diagnosing functional gastrointestinal disorders were released in June 2016 and medical professionals have been following them since December 2016. The new Rome IV criteria reflect advances in science and research since the Rome III criteria were published 10 years ago. The Rome criteria are important because they provide a standard definition of IBS. The updated Rome IV criteria for diagnosing IBS are now as follows:
Recurrent abdominal pain, on average, at least 1 day per week in the last 3 months, associated with two or more of the following criteria:
- Related to defecation
- Associated with a change in frequency of stool
- Associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool.
The IBS Network describes IBS as “the name given to a longstanding illness consisting of frequent abdominal discomfort and bowel symptoms that cannot be explained by any other disease.”
- Abdominal cramps, often relieved by going to the toilet
- Frustrated defaecation (needing to go to the toilet but not being able to)
To be frank, I have a hard time with some of the ‘labels’ given to health-related conditions and the label ‘IBS’ is one of them. I can understand why the medical profession has termed the syndrome ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome’ because it is a collection of symptoms of no known cause irritating the bowel.
However, this description is given to millions of people who are all wonderfully unique in many ways; they share similar symptoms, so they are all categorised as ‘IBS sufferers’ – one single group with no accounting for individuality. As a naturopath trained to look at disease, deficiency and health imbalances from a holistic and wholistic viewpoint, I focus on the person I am treating and not on a generic label that has been ascribed to their set of symptoms.
Since I set up my colonic clinic in 2006, I have treated many thousands of clients suffering from IBS. Over the years, my experience with IBS clients has shown me time and again that it is a condition with many ‘layers’ that requires a comprehensive diagnosis. Yes, I follow guidelines to check the medical symptoms, but I also dig a lot deeper.
Me at work in my IBS, digestive health and gut disorders clinic.
Conventional treatment addresses the symptoms of IBS. A natural health practitioner will aim to address the root cause, and work together with you to systematically treat your digestion with a natural approach based on how your individual condition responds and improves.
As a naturopathic colon hydrotherapist, when presented with a case of IBS, I am looking for symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, irregular bowel movements and secondary symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, skin problems, low mood, as these can be an indication of gut hyperpermeability or ‘leaky’ gut.
Of course it’s important, as a practitioner, to rule out certain red flags. Sudden onset abdominal bloating and pain (especially in women) needs checking for ovarian cancer, and depending upon age (regardless of sex), sudden change in bowel movements (with or without blood) needs investigating for bowel cancer. GPs would also screen for IBD and coeliac disease initially with blood tests, but if bloods come back negative and symptoms still persist, biopsies via colonoscopy or gastroscopy are the next step.
What are some of the triggers of IBS?
- Abnormalities in gut motility
- Nerves and muscles that regulate the movement of food through the gut may not function normally, presenting in either constipation or diarrhoea
- A gastrointestinal infection / food poisoning, presenting a new set of symptoms even after the infection has been resolved
- Food sensitivities
- Antibiotics and antacids
In my practice, I take a comprehensive medical history, including questions that ask if the client was born via cesarean or normal delivery, breast-fed or bottle-fed, was hospitalised as a child, had IV antibiotics in hospital or a long-term course of oral antibiotics, a long-term use of antacids, steroids or painkillers, experienced gut infections, i.e. food poisoning; I also examine lifestyle factors – does the client eat a lot of processed food or junk food; is the client prone to excessive, prolonged stress? I always carry out manual examination of the abdomen to determine levels of bloating, inflammation, impaction and gas pockets, and when I give the client a colonic treatment, I see what is coming down the colonic tubing, that will give me further insights into their diet, how well they chew their food, fluid consumption, the amount of fibre in their diet, and the general health of their digestive system and gut.
Is there a cure?
I advise on dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as putting together a supplement protocol, which includes live bacteria probiotics, digestive enzymes and omega 3 to begin with. Over the years, I’ve found that this particular trio of supplements are extremely effective, and it’s one of the reasons why I decided to develop my own range – Just For Tummies. When the client returns for another consultation and colonic treatment one month later, there is usually a considerably reduction in symptoms.
What makes this treatment plan effective?
The colonic treatment de-pressurises the intestines, voiding excess pockets of trapped painful gas and the supplements help replenish/recolonise the gut, supporting effective digestion and absorption and reducing inflammation. There is always low-grade inflammation of the intestines with IBS, especially the small intestine. It’s this inflammation, and not just gas that causes bloating; the intestines expand, a bit like when you smack your thumb with a hammer, it swells due to irritation. As I mentioned above, the supplements are also crucial to a good outcome as the live bacteria, digestive enzymes and omega 3 supplements put back what is missing, in terms of friendly species of bacteria and enzymes.
However, to ensure a considerable reduction in symptoms, dare I say, in some cases, a complete cure, it’s very much a two-way relationship between the therapist and the client. The therapist does their bit by carrying out the colonic treatment and advising on dietary, lifestyle changes and supplements, but it is up to the client, to take a leap of faith, take on board what their therapist has recommended, and follow the protocol.
It’s important to be aware of foods that can exacerbate your IBS and that have the abilities to heal it. For more information please visit our IBS diet plan page here.