Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects almost 50 million Americans, or almost one in every six people. You probably know if you have IBS, with its numerous symptoms including bloating or gas, distention, constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and most likely, running to the bathroom after you eat.
Forty percent of all visits to internists are for “functional bowel” disorders such as IBS, and the cost for treating these types of digestive disorders is $107 billion a year.
Still, I see many patients for IBS who have not had success with conventional doctors. That’s because most doctors have no clue how to treat it or what creates it.
Functional Medicine practitioners take a whole new way of thinking about solving the puzzle of chronic symptoms and diseases. IBS provides a fantastic model for illustrating how Functional Medicine works. Even though it creates needless misery for millions of people, this condition is entirely fixable.
What Causes IBS?
In Functional Medicine, we know that one disease can have many causes. On the flipside, one cause can create many diseases, such as with gluten. Put another way, if I see five people with IBS, each might have a different cause. In Functional Medicine, we get to the disease’s root cause.
When you narrow things down, there are really only five causes of all disease:
- Microbes or imbalance of the bugs in your gut
- Poor diet
All of these can trigger symptoms and create thousands of diseases. Remember those five people with irritable bowel? Each one of them may have different causes for the exact same symptoms.
7 Strategies to Restore Optimal Gut Health
I want to help get you on the path to optimal gut health. Remember, every case is different, so generalizing a strategy to eradicate IBS is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Ideally, everyone is able to discover the root of their IBS by testing and proper diagnosis. However, I find that nearly everyone does well when employing these strategies to restore good gut health and function:
- Take digestive enzymes with meals. These help break down food while your gut heals. You may need these for two or three months, and many people benefit from taking them permanently.
- Remove sugary, processed foods. Besides wrecking your gut, these foods contribute todiabesity. Take an afternoon to hunt and gather all these foods in your kitchen and throw it all out. Be merciless. Then replace the fake food with real, whole, fresh foods.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Inflammation underlies IBS and many other gut conditions, so you’ll want to incorporate plenty of anti-inflammatory foods like wild-caught fish into your diet. We also use herbs like quercetin and turmeric to reduce inflammation and heal leaky gut and other gut conditions that can contribute to or exacerbate IBS.
- Take gut-healing nutrients. Other nutrients that help heal the lining of the gut including GLA (from evening primrose oil), zinc, vitamin A, and glutamine. You might also consider a supplement like this one that combines gut-healing nutrients.
- Eat fermented foods. Include plenty of probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, kombucha, miso, or sauerkraut. Sometimes, you can also eat yogurt if you are not allergic to dairy. Try unsweetened sheep or goat yogurt. These are all foods that help your gut flora get and stay healthy.
- Exercise regularly. Randomized controlled trials show regular, consistent exercise reduces IBS. Even 30 minutes’ vigorous walking can help, and if you want something more intense, try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or weight resistance.
- Reduce stress. If you struggle with IBS, you don’t need studies to tell you stress can exacerbate these symptoms. Regardless, such studies exist. Whether you employ yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or tapping, find something that works for you to control stress and do it regularly.
By following this approach, most people can heal their irritable bowel and restore gut function. If you are not getting better, you may need medical help. You may need treatment for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, food allergies, or other underlying conditions.