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What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) often stumps medical doctors. I see many IBS sufferers who carry thick files of medical records testifying to all the specialists they’ve seen, to all the medications they’ve tried, and to all the dietary and other advice they’ve received. IBS is a serious condition that can cause great physical distress to a sufferer.

In my experience as a naturopath, IBS can usually be traced to one or a combination of the following problems:

  • antibiotic usage.
  • bacterial infection.
  • parasitic infection.
  • enzymatic deficiency/intolerance.
  • decrease in oral tolerance thresholds, otherwise known as food sensitivities.

Let’s look at each of these a bit more closely and see where the solutions to IBS may lie.

Bacterial infection

If you have a bacterial infection, the culprit could be salmonella, e.coli, c.dif, or another pesky and sadly-too-common bacteria. Usually these will appear when a medical professional takes a culture and looks for them. Typically, these tests have already been done by the time a client comes to see me, and if they show positive results a course of antibiotics can make a big difference.

Antibiotic use

Of course, a round of antibiotics will kill off not only the bad guys, but also a lot of the good bacteria you need to assist in digesting your foods. Probiotics can help balance this, though sometimes you need to try several types to find the one you need.

Parasitic infection

International travel, camping, gardening… there are lots of ways you can get infected by parasites. Once, the entire city of Milwaukee was infected with cryptosporidium through the water supply, so don’t look at this as a stigma or judgement on your personal hygiene.

The host cycle of a parasitic infection can include acute phases and chronic phases. The life cycle of a parasite includes eggs, larvae, and adult stages, and it is important to target all three when eradicating the infection. Western anti-parasitic medication — Flagyl — will only get the adults, and it is not effective against all species, either. I advocate a gentle, herbal program for longer than 15 days to see the best effects. Then, you may still need to repeat the herbs 6 months to one year later, if the symptoms reappear.

By the way, testing for parasites is notorious for false negatives. If you suspect parasites, I always advocate doing a parasite cleanse without bothering with expensive, unreliable testing.

Enzymatic deficiency

The villi are the little hairs that line the insides of your stomach. Their job is to sense the food that you eat and call for the correct enzymatic formula to digest the food into small enough particles so that the villi in your intestines can absorb the nutrition and assimilate it into your body. When you are chronically inflamed, the villi get smashed and flattened and are unable to do their job well. The food does not get broken down enough, absorption and assimilation doesn’t happen, and deficiencies develop. Enzymatic deficiencies cover intolerance, too, such as lactose or gluten intolerance.

Supplementation with plant-based digestive enzymes can help correct this and enable nutrient absorption.

Decrease in oral tolerance, aka food sensitivities

I listed this last because I believe food sensitivities can be incited by any of the above-mentioned conditions, or perhaps you are simply a sensitive person who has unwittingly crossed their tolerance threshold through other circumstances.

Food sensitivities can manifest in a whole host of issues caused from inflammation in the body where it shouldn’t be: migraines, fibromyalgia, IBS, arthritis, MS, etc., etc., etc…. Food sensitivities likely play a role in every chronic condition that has inflammation at the root level.

The hopeful thing is that, if you can figure out the cause and address it appropriately, you can eliminate the irritable in IBS and lead a pain-free, “normal” life.

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