Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), causes and treatment

IBS is thought to affect up to one in five people at some point in their lives. The most common symptoms include bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea and fatigue. The quality of life of people suffering from IBS is very low. It’s actually a number two reason for missing work, just behind the common cold. Apart from the obvious physical discomfort of bloating, gas, often severe pain, unpredictable bowel movements, it is also linked to more diverse, not necessarily gut-related, symptoms like depression or skin problems. It most likely affects work, social life and relationships. Yet people often suffer from it long term, often for years, without finding the right treatment.

IBS can also lead to complications like malabsorption, nutrient deficiencies and small intestinal inflammation, affecting the whole body including bone health, mental health or skin problems like acne rosacea.

The causes of IBS were thought to be unknown, but there is more and more research linking IBS to the disruption of the gut microbiome i.e. the collection of microorganisms we rely on to protect us against pathogens, breaking down food to release energy and producing vitamins, amongst other important functions. The most common triggers are stress, infections, antibiotics use. They ‘shock’ the bowels, which results in unfavourable microbiome and low grade inflammation coming from the gut, most likely affecting the whole body. Hence the symptoms are often systemic, not only confined to the gut.

The fact that we now know more about the possible causes of IBS means that we can address underlying problems, instead of just trying to manage the symptoms. There are functional tests available through qualified practitioners, that can help to identify the nature of the microbiome disruption and the pathogens contributing to the symptoms. It can be different for different people, just as the symptoms often are e.g. constipation dominant vs diarrhoea. Botanical protocols, which have been shown to be effective, can help to re-establish optimal gut health. It’s also important to consider any risk factors, that could have brought on or contributed to the symptoms in the first place. Making necessary adjustments to either the diet or lifestyle can help to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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