In recent times, GPs and their patients have reported a rise of a severe gut condition that often prevents sufferers from leaving the house. GPs’ response to this, however, can be frustrating for sufferers, who are often told that the issue is “functional” or “psychosomatic”.
But the problem is not “all in the head” for the 1 in 7 Australians who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Their discomfort is real, presenting as symptoms such as cramps, diarrhoea, pain and constipation (sometime all at once).
I’ve treated many patients suffering from IBS. These patients have sometimes suffered for decades without relief. They have been subjected to a gamut of tests, such as Gastroscopies and Colonscopies, with no relief. They may have been told to eat more fibre, or were prescribed sedatives, anti-spasm drugs, laxatives or even anti-depressants.
While these treatments often have unfortunate side-effects, they also aren’t particularly efficacious, as they don’t treat the underlying cause of IBS. There is however an emerging body of research that suggests that what causes IBS can, despite the advice of many GPs, be successfully treated. The answer is a simple methodology, using functional medicine. Here at Vital Health, we can identify the underlying causes and treat them.
I’d like to share some IBS insights with you. But let me first tell you about a patient who suffered IBS all his life.
Tony was sixty-eight when he sought help from a naturopath. He had suffered with the condition half his life. Reflecting on his medical history, he remembered he’s suffered consistently with IBS following a trip to Bali, in which he contracted bad food poisoning. The symptoms presented were painful cramping and diarrhoea, which would often come on suddenly. Tony took care of himself – he refrained from smoking and drinking, cut diary out of his diet, and took a fibre supplement. However, the suffering continued. Unfortunately, this can be common for people when food poisoning or a parasite infection is not treated decisively in the early stages.
Tony was going to the toilet five time in the morning before he’d even left the house. He planned trips to the bathroom, in case he had an attack of “the s__ts”, as he called it. Eating was a chore, as he often felt bloating and cramping after a meal. Starchy foods exacerbated the problem. He consumed many antibiotics, so often had yeast infections. He also had stomach inflammation (gastritis). He had sugar cravings, agitation, fatigue, headaches and rectal itching.
While he tried to eat healthy, sugar cravings led to a poor diet. He would consume cakes, ice cream, diet coke, and other junk foods to satiate his cravings. He was overweight, ten kilos or so.
To give Tony some relief from his long-term suffering, I educated him on how the digestive system works. There are two main causes of IBS: food allergies and overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. I will discuss here each in turn.
The small intestines absorb food, to give you energy. It’s also the first line of defence for your immunity (making up about 60% of your immunity). There is, however, only one layer of immunity between your gut immune system and the toxic sewer – all the undigested food particles in your gut.
When that lining breaks down from stress, poor diet, antibiotics, excess alcohol, aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs, food poisoning, candida infection, intestinal bacterial, or other issues, your immune system will be exposed to foreign particles. This irritates what we sometimes refer to as the “second brain”, the “enteric nervous system”, which can lead to irritable bowel and irritable brain, as well as mood disorders, allergy, autoimmunity, arthritis, among others.
To optimise your health, you need your gut to be healthy. When bacteria in your gut is not in balance, when you suffer with too many pathogenic bacteria and not enough healthy bacteria, you become ill. There are about 500 species, or 1.5 kilograms, in your gut. Among these bacteria, there are bad bacteria, good bacteria, and very bad bacteria.
If the bad bacteria take over or move into parts of the body where toxicity can’t be fought by the body’s natural defences, like the small intestine, they can cause serious issues. They will ferment the food you digest, especially if there are sugars or starches in the food.
Here at Vital Health, we can diagnose bacterial overgrowth with a breath test. This will measure the gas produced by bacteria – if you often feel bloated, this gas production very well may be the cause! Another means to test is via urine tests. This measures the bacterial by-product in your system.
IBS patients can greatly benefit from anon-absorbed antibiotics. After ten days, patients have seen a dramatic improvement in symptoms. However, for a lasting, comprehensive treatment to IBS, you need to treat multiple factors.
Another factor that may need treating in IBS is food sensitivities. These food sensitivities don’t rise to the level of actual allergies; they are rather small scale, but persistent, reactions, in themselves not major upsets, but driving chronic conditions over time.
To help Tony further, it was important to prescribe an herbal antibiotic. This acts to attach fungal and microbial imbalances. I also removed foods from Tony’s diet to which he was sensitive. By testing for the low-grade food intolerances I mentioned, I was able to identify the root of the problem.
I then prescribed probiotics, to restore healthy bacteria in the gut. I also prescribed bacteria, zinc, herbs and digestive enzymes to correct gut function and reign in inflammation. I also prescribed a prescription to kill off bad bugs.
Tony when through my course of therapy for a six-week period. When he returned, he was a different person. He’d lost his weight, about ten kilos. He’d not had any “sh__t attack”. His bowel habits were ordinary for the first time in thirty years! His bloating was gone; he felt energised. He said to me: ‘I feel ten years younger!’
The fact is, you don’t have to suffer through IBS, despite the common response from GPs. We have the scientific and therapeutic tools – and the clinical experience! – to deal decisively with IBS.
Seek professional help. IBS is by no means an easy condition to treat, if it was, 1 in 7 Australians would not be suffering from it today. But the fact is – here at Vital Health we have what it takes!
Yours in health,
Domenic Pisanelli Naturopath (ND)