Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal (GI) condition, most often diagnosed when all other probable conditions have been ruled out. This means, it is a clinical diagnosis based on eliminating the possibility of more serious disease when uncomfortable GI symptoms still remain present without serious progression. The most frustrating aspect of IBS is that there is no obvious cause and no known treatment besides palliative pharmaceutical medication.

IBS can also be frustrating because symptoms are present at random and those symptoms may alternate from cramping to constipation to diarrhea. Although there seems to be no true ‘cause’ of IBS, there are several relatable events within one’s emotional and dietary spectrum that should be adjusted to provide long term relief of symptoms. There are also highly effective supplement protocols that significantly reduce occurrences and severity of IBS symptoms.

IBS has been heavily associated with food allergies/sensitivities, improper digestion, and stress and anxiety. It is beneficial to begin assessing the potential causes of IBS exacerbation with food allergy and sensitivity testing, possibly a digestive stool analysis (CDSA), and a food, sleep and mood journal to correlate symptoms with IBS events. The results of these evaluations, along with a thorough professional intake of symptoms, diet, lifestyle habits and personal medical history, will create an individual symptomatic picture and — along with concrete lab results – help us understand the cause(s) of IBS events and devise an effective the treatment plan.

Aside from medication, there are natural supplements that help reduce symptoms in the majority of IBS patients. Low levels of stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and probiotics in the digestive tract can exacerbate IBS. Including digestive enzymes and probiotics daily with meals can increase proper digestion of food and recolonize the GI with good and necessary probiotics. Increasing fiber intake in the form of ground flax seed, psyllium, or fiber-rich foods, can improve bowel function. Melatonin and 5HTP have both shown to reduce symptoms of IBS in clinical studies. Trying low doses, one at a time, of these supplements can reduce symptoms, most especially in those prone to anxiety and depression. Peppermint oil, solely in enteric-coated form, can reduce contractions and cramping of the GI when taken daily. To reduce symptoms during an IBS ‘attack’ or as a daily tonic, castor oil packs used topically on the abdomen are highly effective for IBS discomfort and constipation.

For a complete assessment and effective treatment plan for IBS, a thorough medical evaluation is necessary to rule out serious GI conditions. When all other conditions are ruled out, a beginning approach to IBS treatment is evaluation of irritating foods, exacerbations caused by stress, and lab tests to determine functional GI health. Nutritional supplements and lifestyle adjustments are effective at reducing the severity and frequency of symptoms, as well as partially treating the underlying cause of IBS. Long-term IBS treatment includes a combination of dietary changes, enhancement of digestive function, and stress management.

Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is a licensed naturopathic doctor at Optimal Health Center and can be reached at (760) 568-2598.

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