IMAGINE HAVING A CONDITION with symptoms that leave you scrambling to find a bathroom at the worst possible moment OR anxious about traveling because you worry that your constipation will act up OR missing out on important moments in life because of stomach pain.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a widely diagnosed, often misunderstood condition that affects a large percentage of the population.
Symptoms of IBS include gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, accompanied by constipation, diarrhea, or both.
Because there is no recognized cause of IBS in conventional medicine, the standard treatment is to suppress symptoms through the use of drugs, like laxatives and pain meds. Reports of use show low satisfaction with little relief; and many of these drugs cause side effects that are similar to, if not worse than, the IBS symptoms themselves.
The problem with these so called treatments is that they focus on alleviating symptoms of IBS instead of actually fixing the underlying problems.
For the greater part of my life, I suffered from IBS with symptoms of gas, bloating, constipation and severe stomach pain. Most doctors gave me very little hope and none of them attempted to find the root cause of my problem. The common advice was to eat more fiber, avoid coffee and take a laxative.
I know from experience just how frustrating it can be to seek help and healing from your doctor, only to find no answers and possibly have your symptoms poorly managed with pills.
In this article, I’m going to share with you 5 natural steps you can take to help treat the root cause of your IBS, so you can begin to enjoy life without daily nagging IBS symptoms.
These steps have been life-changing for me and have allowed me to put over 20 years of IBS behind me. I truly feel they are worth the effort and investment if you are serious about getting your gut healthy and living symptom free!
#1: Identify Food Intolerances
Food sensitivities are extremely common among people with IBS and are often responsible for causing symptoms or making them worse. We know that certain food proteins (ie. gluten) can lead to inflammation in sensitive individuals, especially where a leaky gut is already present, and studies show that at least two-thirds of people with IBS show chronic low-grade inflammation. (1, 2)
IBS-like symptoms occur in most people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), making the two conditions nearly indistinguishable in many cases. One study estimated that about one-third of people with IBS have NCGS. (1)
Proteins in dairy, yeast, soy, eggs, and other foods may also contribute to IBS. (2) Removing problematic foods from your diet is an important first step in healing your gut and treating your IBS.
In addition, clinical trials have consistently shown that a low-FODMAP diet can significantly reduce the severity of IBS symptoms. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols and are short-chain carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion.
FODMAPs can cause problems in IBS patients for a couple of reasons. First, unabsorbed FODMAPs draw liquid into the intestines, which can contribute to abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Second, these unabsorbed FODMAPs are fermented by intestinal bacteria, resulting in gas, bloating, and abdominal distention.
While a low-FODMAP diet can provide safe and immediate relief to those with IBS, it’s important to also address the underlying causes of the IBS and avoid staying on a low-FODMAP diet long term.
The gold standard for identifying food intolerances is an elimination diet. It requires a larger commitment, but it’s cheap and effective, and there are plenty of resources available to guide people through both the elimination phase and the slow reintroduction of foods.
TRY: My Love Your Gut Program. In this program, I coach you through an elimination diet for IBS and teach you how to properly reintroduce foods.
#2: Support Digestion
Most people with IBS have compromised digestion due to digestive enzyme deficiency.
Digestive enzymes are small proteins that help to break down food. If you are deficient in any of these enzymes, your body may not be breaking down food as well as it should, leading to major issues in the digestive tract and an imbalance in gut bacteria (the “bad” bacteria can outnumber the “good”).
Enzyme deficiency can be caused by a number of factors including a leaky gut, low stomach acid, inflammation from food sensitivities and toxins, chronic stress, genetics, and aging.
Since enzyme deficiency is common in people with IBS, it’s important to support digestion with digestive enzymes. The supplement I use and recommend is Digestzymes. Learn more about Digestzymes here.
#3: Repair Your Gut
Small gaps in the intestinal wall called tight junctions allow water and nutrients to pass through into the bloodstream, while blocking the passage of harmful substances. Intestinal permeability refers to how easily substances pass through the intestinal wall.
Certain external factors, including food, infections, toxins, and stress, can break apart the tight junctions in your intestinal wall.
When the tight junctions of intestinal walls become loose, the gut becomes more permeable, which may allow toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles to pass from the gut into the bloodstream. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “leaky gut.”
When the gut is “leaky” and bacteria and toxins enter the bloodstream, it can cause widespread inflammation and possibly trigger a reaction from the immune system.
Supplements that can help re-establish the intestinal barrier and heal a leaky gut include: L-glutamine, MSM and quercetin, N-acetyl glucosamine, nucin, DGL, slippery elm, marshmallow, chamomile and cat’s claw.
The supplement I use and recommend is GI-Revive since it contains several of the above supplements in an effective blend. Learn more about GI Revive here.
Probiotics can also help repair gut permeability, which brings me to my next step …
#4: Repopulate Your Gut with Good Bacteria
IBS symptoms have been linked to certain changes in the gut bacteria. For example, people with IBS have lower amounts of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in their guts, and higher levels of harmful Streptococcus, E. coli and Clostridium. (6, 7)
Additionally, up to 80% of IBS patients experience bacterial overgrowth in their small intestines (also known as SIBO), which can lead to many of their symptoms. (8)
It’s important to note that certain medications used to treat IBS can damage the healthy bacteria living in the gut. (9)
Changes in the gut flora may influence IBS symptoms which is why probiotics are being increasingly investigated as a treatment option for IBS. Aside from their potential to reshape the gut microbiome, there are several ways probiotics may improve IBS symptoms: changing intestinal motility, reducing gut sensitivity, improving intestinal barrier function, and calming gut inflammation and immune activation, to name a few.
However, not all probiotics are alike. In fact, the term “probiotic” covers many different strains and types of bacteria and yeasts. Their health effects vary depending on the type.
Probiotics that have had positive results in treating IBS in placebo-controlled trials include various Lactobacillus species like L. rhamnosus GG and L. acidophilus, various Bifidobacterium species like B. infantis and B. longum, and mixtures of strains. (14, 15, 16)
ProbioMed 50 contains many of the bacteria species listed above which is why it’s my recommended probiotic for people with IBS. Learn more about ProbioMed 50 here.
#5: Reduce Stress
It’s very clear that many, if not most, cases of IBS involve physical causes, BUT extensive research on the gut–brain connection shows how impactful mental function is on the gut and digestion.
The digestive system is connected to the brain directly through nerve pathways and also indirectly via the endocrine and immune systems. Stress signals in these pathways can cause changes in intestinal motility and secretion, increased visceral sensitivity and intestinal permeability, and even disruptions of the intestinal microbiota–all of which are symptoms of IBS. (17) Stress can not only trigger IBS symptoms, but often makes them worse and longer-lasting.
Several approaches targeting the gut-brain connection have been studied and found to be effective for treating IBS patients. Here are some well researched strategies that may help:
Yoga. A 2015 study in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine found that people with IBS who took an hour-long yoga class three days a week for 12 weeks had less severe symptoms and improved quality of life. The researchers noted that the combination of yoga postures and breath control exercises worked to help alleviate stress and reduce anxiety related to IBS.
TRY: If you are new to yoga, find a studio near you and start with beginner, gentle or relaxation classes, 1-3 times/week. You can also do a regular at-home yoga practice since there are plenty of online yoga classes available.
Meditation & Breath Work. In a 2015 study in the journal PLOS ONE, people with IBS attended a weekly relaxation program that included meditation and breathing exercises and were encouraged to practice the routine for 15 to 20 minutes every day at home. After nine weeks, the group reported much lower levels of IBS-related anxiety.
TRY: Download a meditation app on your phone (ie. Headspace, Calm, Aura) and fit 15 to 20 minutes of meditation and/or breathing exercises into your day. You can split this up during the day to make it easier. For example, try a 5-minute meditation before getting out of bed, then a 5-minute breathing exercise mid-day and a 5 to 10 minute meditation before bed.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The goal of CBT is to help you increase awareness of your thoughts and behavior and learn how to change your reactions to stressful situations. A 2015 study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that four weeks of CBT sessions reduced symptom severity among IBS patients and that the effect lasted up to three months.
TRY: Google “cognitive behavioral therapist near you” to find a therapist you can work with.
It’s clear that stress reduction and mind-body techniques have an important role to play in treating IBS, and it’s vital for people with IBS to have some way of managing mental stress in order for other treatments, including the ones listed above, to be maximally effective.
In summary, there are many effective natural strategies for treating IBS, and these strategies are even more powerful when used together. The strategies described here are low risk and often high reward and thus deserve consideration when treating IBS.
In my work with clients (and my own personal journey), I have seen people who have suffered from symptoms of IBS recover after fixing their diets and implementing the strategies listed in this article. The process is not always quick and easy, but the end result is usually worth the time and energy you invest in your health.
If you are seeking more guidance and support in treating your IBS, I recommend my Love Your Gut Program which includes 1:1 health coaching with me.
If you’d like to purchase the supplements I recommend in this article, I created The Ultimate Gut Support Kit for IBS to make it easy & help you save. When you purchase all three supplements you’ll save 10% and shipping is FREE!