Getting to the root cause of your IBS
April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness month. IBS can make you feel miserable and have a massive impact on your life. Whether that’s from the bloating, pain, constipation, diarrhoea symptoms and the impact it has on the foods you can eat or always needing to know where the nearest toilet is, just in case you get a flare up.
Two in three people who experience IBS are female. One reason for this is that fluctuations in hormone levels can make the gut more sensitive. Hence some people find that their symptoms can get worse around their period or as they approach the perimenopause.
IBS can be used by the medical profession as an umbrella term for any abdominal pain, bloating or bowel symptoms where an explanation for the symptoms can’t be found. Hence some people with endometriosis sometimes get told they have IBS, when actually it is the growth of the endometriosis on the bowel or intestines that can be causing the problem.
Often by the time people seek help for their IBS, the symptoms have been going on for a number of years and so it can take a while to unpick what might be causing it and start to address the causes. Part of the reason that IBS can be difficult to tackle is that there are so many possible causes of the symptoms and often there is more than one thing causing it. In addition, once one thing goes wrong in the gut, this often causes a domino effect and causes other gut problems as things are so inter-linked.
Two of the main contributors to IBS are:
You may have heard of the gut brain axis, there is a clear link between the brain and the gut through the vagus nerve. If we are stressed this can affect the function of our gut – you know that pre exam feeling when your stomach goes, or you get diarrhoea? When we are stressed, we also pump out cortisol our stress hormone. Cortisol switches off our digestive system as cortisol is designed to help us survive and avoid danger in the short term and so digestion is not a priority. This means we stop producing the digestive enzymes we need to break down food if we eat when stressed which can lead to bloating.
It is worth keeping a food diary to see if you notice any patterns between the foods you eat and your symptoms. If you have an intolerance to a certain food, this can trigger a number of gut symptoms like bloating or diarrhoea. Gluten and dairy are often triggers, but a whole host of foods can cause problems.
But how do I know what is causing my IBS symptoms?
There are a number of other factors that can be going on in the gut that could be causing your IBS symptoms. Nutritional therapy can have good results in helping to address gut problems. Often through a process of trial and error we can begin to work out what is causing the problems and start to address them.
However, if you want to get to the root cause of your symptoms more quickly, or you’ve already tried some strategies to manage your IBS symptoms but are still getting problems, then a private stool test can be the next step. This tells us exactly what is going on in the gut and so what we need to address to get the symptoms back in balance.
What will a stool test tell me?
Some of the things a stool test can tell you that might be contributing to your IBS symptoms are:
- Whether there is any inflammation in the gut;
- If you have enough digestive enzymes to help break down your food;
- If you have the full spectrum of all the good bacteria needed in the gut to keep you healthy;
- If your levels of bad bacteria have got out of balance and whether you have any fungal infections or parasites;
- Whether you have any holes in your gut wall (sometimes called leaky gut) or if the lining that protects the gut wall has got too thin.
It’s so important to keep our gut healthy given the impact it has on our wider health including our immune system, skin health, moods, hormone levels and how well we absorb the nutrients from the foods we eat. Therefore, it really can be worth the investment in a stool test to work exactly what is going on in your gut and be able to start addressing it.
If you would like some help getting your gut health back on track or to find out whether a stool test may be useful for you do book in for a free hormone health review.