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Managing IBS Holistically

Only your health care professional can determine if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Your health care professional will determine the diagnosis in a number of ways according to your age and symptoms. Sometimes your health care professional will decide that you should have medical tests done. These tests may include a blood test for celiac disease, a Complete blood count (CBC), sedimentation rate, which checks for inflammation in the body, and a stool analysis. Sometimes a thyroid function test and colonoscopy are also done.  

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common disorder. Some signs and symptoms of IBS include frequent abdominal discomfort and/or pain, bloating, gas, spastic contractions of the colon, diarrhea and constipation. 

It is estimated that IBS affects between 25 and 40 million people in the U.S. Worldwide it is estimated that about 1 in 4 people have IBS. This is a syndrome that affects all ages. About 1 in 3 sufferers are male. 

The exact cause of IBS is not known. Symptoms seem to result from a disturbance in the way the gut, the brain, and the nervous system interact. Stress does not cause IBS. However, because of the connection between the brain and the gut, stress can worsen IBS or trigger its symptoms.
Eating certain foods can cause major discomfort for people with IBS. Ascertaining which foods are causing the symptoms is a highly individualized process. The elimination of certain foods is usually very helpful. Food allergies can also play a role in intestinal health.

Irritable bowel syndrome is sometimes triggered by giardial infection. Giardia is a parasite that inhabits the digestive tract of humans and in many animals. Your health care professional may want to test for this infection. 

Treatments are available to help manage symptoms of IBS, but not all treatments work for all people. Each person is unique, and will respond differently to the various treatments. Sometimes antispasmodics and anti-depressants are prescribed to control the symptoms of IBS, however they will not address the underlying cause.

IBS can be treated without medication. A basic strategy that can be used as an alternative to the drugs that are usually prescribed is to avoid all gluten. Gluten is found in Wheat, and other grains such as Barley, Rye, Oats, and Spelt. If you remove gluten from your diet you may see a significant improvement. 

A proper diet for IBS is highly individualized and there is no one-diet-fits-all solution. Each person must find what works for them. The best diet approach seems to be eating smaller, more frequent meals spread throughout the day. This is helpful for many people. 

The most important thing is to identify the foods that are causing the symptoms. One may want to do a trial FODMAPS elimination diet. (FODMAPS stands for fermentable oligo-, di, and monosaccharides and polyols.) An elimination of all foods that contain the five forms of carbohydrates, lactose, fructose, fructans, sugar alcohols, and galactans for a trial period of one to two weeks can be done, and if FODMAPS carbs are causing the symptoms, then some relief in the symptoms will be seen in just a few days. 

After the elimination period, FODMAP carbs are reintroduced into the diet one by one, to see if any symptoms return. The final diet is one that consists of only those FODMAP carbs that are well tolerated. The ultimate goal is to find the most liberal diet possible that will keep the symptoms under control.

Many people are able to control their IBS symptoms with diet and lifestyle modifications. Relaxation, deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga are some of the ways that can help people manage their IBS symptoms. 

It is important to maintain a physically active lifestyle. During exercise such as walking, the bowel quiets down because blood is pumped to other parts of the body. If you exercise regularly the bowel will relax even during periods of rest. 

It is helpful to learn as much as possible about IBS. Many people also find it helpful to join a support group where they can gain information and share their experiences. The internet provides topic specific support groups where those with IBS can meet to discuss their experiences. Two such support groups on Facebook are “Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Help and Support”, and “Irritable Bowel Syndrome Support and Information”. There are numerous good web sites on the internet that provide a wealth of knowledge about IBS and how to manage the symptoms. One such site is www.strandsofmylife.com. 

To manage IBS requires personal research, teamwork with a competent healthcare provider, and a commitment to adhere to the diet and lifestyle that works best for each person. 

Although Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a complicated digestive condition, it absolutely
can be managed successfully.