Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Signs and Symptoms and 5 Tips to Get Some Relief

May 11, 2023
pad of paper with IBS written on it

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?


IBS is a constellation of signs and symptoms that indicate gut dysfunction or an imbalance. Our gut is the epicenter of our health. It’s where we share the real estate, our bodies, with trillions of living microbes. This is also known as our gut microbiome. Most of the microbes that reside in our gut are meant to be “good guys,” who help support our functioning as a human through vitamin synthesis, hormone and neurotransmitter production. It can be thought of as the perfect commune, where everyone helps each other out - the ultimate balance. But when that balance is thrown off, imbalance and dis-ease dynamics occur. Chances are you or someone you know has been to a conventional GI doc and been told they have IBS; probably even more than one. They may have prescribed a pill that doesn’t have great efficacy but did they ask you about your lifestyle, including your stress level and what you actually eat? 


What are some of the signs and symptoms of IBS?


There are the obvious gut signs and symptoms but, as the highly regarded scientist and gut health pioneer, Alessio Fasano said, “[w]hat happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut.”  It causes inflammation in the GI tract and through the rest of the body which causes signs and symptoms outside of the GI tract. Here are some signs and symptoms:


  • Bloating and abdominal distention - especially after eating
  • Frequent abdominal pain and discomfort - especially after eating
  • Frequent gas and flatulence
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Brain Fog
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes - anxiety and or low mood or depression


Why is it so prevalent?


IBS is practically an epidemic here in the US these days. There’s data that states that upwards of 20% of Americans have signs and symptoms consistent with IBS. It’s very likely that it’s even higher considering that many suffer from these signs and symptoms and live a standard American lifestyle such as: 


  • Eat a Standard American Diet full of refined carbs and processed foods including preservatives and additives and fillers that are known to disrupt the gut
  • Take antibiotics for every sniffle or use other medications that increase the risk of IBS such as ibuprofen, steroids, birth control pills
  • Are exposed to many toxins, including environmental ones, such as chemicals in foods and personal hygiene products and heavy metals and stress. 
  • Have poor abilities to rid the body of these toxins due to constipation and or diarrhea and other poor detox pathways, such as not sweating each day with exercise or not hydrating enough to pee optimally. We rely on these pathways to detox.


This lifestyle is the opposite of that commune I mentioned above. ;)


You are also more at risk of IBS if you have a history of food poisoning or gastroenteritis, such as the dreaded stomach bug that goes around in communities. Most of us have indeed had this but it’s our body’s ability to handle it that matters most. If we start from a place of strength and optimal constitution then we can better handle it without the ramifications.


Why the bigger picture of our lifestyle and choices matter…


The average American is under tremendous chronic stress - emotional, mental, financial, and social. Add to that the physiological stressors of chronic illness and lifestyle and it’s a pretty exact recipe for IBS. I mean, who has the time to prepare nutritious meals, exercise and hydrate let alone prioritize sleep these days? 


There seems to be a pervasive belief that this is all normal - the frenzy, the overscheduling, the hamster wheel – but the truth is, it’s not. We know it’s not because our bodies and minds respond in ways that let us know that there is something wrong. This lifestyle promotes imbalance by scrambling our gut microbiome and gut lining - two parts of gut function that are non-negotiable for health and well-being.


But, you can heal for the long term. But first you have to be willing to notice how you are choosing to live and change it.


Ways you can listen and 5 Tips to Get Some Relief


These signs and symptoms can start off as a “heads up” with some GI upset, maybe some bloating and gas but when we don’t listen to those messages and pivot in response, they become more intense and more frequent. It’s your body’s way of saying - please stop and listen to me. I have something important to say.


Before you know it, you are wary of eating anything as it causes you to feel really unwell and have the dreaded “food baby” belly after eating. Here are some ways to get on the path to healing.


  1. Take inventory and notice what you are eating and how it makes you feel - like honest inventory. For example, refined carbs, processed foods and even “healthy” grains usually are a major feast for bacteria that are responsible for IBS signs and symptoms. These bacteria, oftentimes too many of our good ones, proliferate too much and produce gases that make us feel unwell. Experiment with a temporary diet of low fermentable fibers as you heal. It can really help to give the bowel a break. There are many lists of these foods available online. A word of caution - it’s not always a great idea to jump to a commercial probiotic. Oftentimes these just help the culprits multiply even more and cause symptoms to worsen. Probiotics have a time and a place.
  2. Incorporating some carminative herbs such as peppermint, ginger and fennel will likely help to relieve some of that trapped gas and provide some temporary relief. They do so by relaxing the intestinal wall. Keep in mind that peppermint may exacerbate gastritis symptoms such as acid reflux. Try some ginger tea using a piece of well sourced organic ginger steeped for a while. Activated charcoal can also help absorb some of the gas. It’s advisable to take away from other supplements and food as it will bind these as well.
  3. Since digestion is affected with IBS, consider taking a comprehensive digestive enzyme blend before each meal to help aid in your digestion process. This can be helpful for many reasons including allowing more nutrient absorption and making you less reactive or sensitive to foods. It can be quite helpful throughout your healing process.
  4. Slow down - especially when you eat. This is one of the more important tips. We do not take the time to chew our food enough to give digestion the start it needs. Really. This is a super important part of the process that NEVER gets talked about. Take 3-5 intentional deep breaths with extra long exhales before sitting down to eat. Chew your food slowly and when you think you're done, chew some more. ;)
  5. Consider working with a gut health consultant who utilizes a comprehensive stool analysis to get an idea of what’s going on in your gut. They can help guide you in developing a comprehensive plan to help get rid of IBS for good. It won't happen overnight but it can happen with the right guidance and personalized plan. Before you know it, your quality of life will improve dramatically.

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