Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an uncomfortable and challenging condition to live with. Trust me, I know. Throughout most of my teens and early 20’s I suffered with IBS. I had a colonoscopy at 18 and got the IBS diagnosis from my gastroenterologist who gave me a prescription for Bentyl (an anti-spasmodic medication) and instructions to “eat less chocolate and greasy food”. That was all the advice I was offered and, like most other IBS sufferers, it didn’t help me much. I still carried Pepto-Bismol chewables with me everywhere I went.
Remarkably, everything changed when I became a vegetarian in my early 20’s. I have since gone back to eating small amounts of meat, but that’s another story. I don’t believe that eliminating meat from my diet made the difference for me. It was the obligate change in the foods I chose as a vegetarian. My new diet was made up of lots of vegetables and beans, foods that are high in fiber and unlikely to cause food sensitivity reactions. I started eating fewer refined and processed foods, less dairy, and less sugar.
I didn’t set out to change my IBS symptoms. I had come to terms with the idea that I would always have to live with them. Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled that I had stumbled upon the solution to my problem and my symptoms just seemed to disappear on their own.
It wasn’t until I was a naturopathic medical student at Bastyr University that I understood why my diet change had made such a difference. While at Bastyr I learned A LOT about the workings of the digestive system and helped numerous IBS patients in the teaching clinic. I was amazed at how diet changes and other holistic treatment strategies could make such a big impact.
I’ve experienced it myself and I’ve seen it with countless patients who suffer from IBS, both constipation-dominant and diarrhea-dominant. Holistic medicine is a very effective way to treat IBS.
Nutritional counseling, including exploring potential food sensitivities through elimination diets or blood tests, often makes the biggest impact, as it did for me. For other patients, the problem may be dysbiosis (imbalance in the bacteria that live in our intestines) as in small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) which can be tested for and treated using antibiotic herbs and probiotics. Still other patients are deficient in the hydrochloric acid (HCl) that breaks down food in the stomach or the pancreatic enzymes that help us digest our food. Many patients have inflammation of the digestive tract as well. Stress and anxiety are also major players for many with IBS. Most patients with IBS have a combination of these issues, and all of these issues can be effectively treated with natural medicine.
I only wish that my family had known what a naturopathic doctor was and how to find one when I was a teenager. It would have saved me years of struggle and embarrassment. If you suffer from IBS, you should know that you don’t have to live with your symptoms. IBS is nothing more than an unpleasant memory and teaching story for me now. I learned how to love my belly again, and so can you.