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Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Known Causes and Proven Treatments
by Dr. Stephen Wangen, ND, co-founder IBS Treatment Center

Digestion is one of the most important processes of the human body. We consume plants, animals, minerals, bacteria, fungi, and all sorts of chemicals, both naturally occurring and synthetic. Our body uses mechanical and chemical means to break down what we eat into smaller parts and absorb important nutrients from our food. Part of our digestive tract includes bacteria and other microorganisms that live in colonies from our mouth to the other end and provide enzymes and other chemicals that assist in our digestion. When the system is working well, our bodies get the nutrients and fuel we need while excluding harmful organisms and chemicals. When it is not working, then many aspects of our health can be affected.

Carl (name has been changed) had been generally healthy for most of his life. His career was going very well, and he was engaged to be married when a sports injury required minor surgery. After the surgery, he started to have uncontrollable diarrhea. Without warning he would find himself running for the bathroom and occasionally not making it. This was a terrible situation that impacted both his work life and his family and social life. After seeing several doctors, he was diagnosed with IBS—irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is the name for a set of symptoms of digestive problems, including abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, gas, or bloating and a change in bowel habits. IBS is generally the name used to describe any combination of these symptoms when no obvious cause has been discovered. Medical research has demonstrated that many, if not most patients diagnosed with IBS have one or more conditions that affect their immune system through various means (Kahn and Collins 2006). The conditions that may be affecting the immune system can range from allergies to infections, to microbial imbalances.

Food allergies have been shown in many studies to cause IBS (Drisko et al., 2006; Yang and Li 2007; Zuo et al. 2007). The mechanisms by which allergies cause the symptoms that define IBS have been revealed by published research (Wood 2006; Barbara et al. 2007). And many kinds of microorganisms including bacteria and parasites have been shown to produce symptoms that meet the definition of IBS (Othman et al. 2008; Packey and Sartor 2008). Yeast has also been shown to be capable of producing IBS symptoms (Maresca et. al. 2008). Additionally the normal, healthy bacteria that colonize the intestines have been shown to regulate the immune system (Fink et al. 2007) and even improve the ability of the system to deal with infections (Ivec et al. 2007).

"Celiac disease is a common finding among patients labeled with irritable bowel syndrome. In this sub-group, a gluten-free diet may lead to a significant improvement in symptoms." (Shahbazkhani et. al. 2003). However, non-celiac gluten intolerance can also produce IBS symptoms and is far more common than celiac disease. In either case, gluten must be completely removed from the diet. Unfortunately, in both cases proper diagnosis is often not made until long after the patient first seeks medical care.

The facts about IBS are surprising. At least 35 million people in the United Stated suffer from it. It is a primary cause of missing work, second only to the common cold. It is one of the top 10 reasons that people visit the doctor, and it is the primary reason people see a gastroenterologist. In fact, it is one the most common health problems in our country.

Despite all of this, most doctors know very little about IBS. IBS is rarely talked about, and is seldom seriously addressed. The only time IBS is brought up is either by a comedian or a commercial about a new drug that at best temporarily treats a symptom and at worst comes with a host of bad side effects. And the standard of care, supported by several major medical groups, is to diagnose on the basis of symptoms and then treat the symptoms with medications or offer no treatment at all.

Carl was tested for allergies and microbial issues. He learned that he had lost most of the bacteria that were beneficial. He lso had an overgrowth of yeast (Candida), which was disrupting his digestion. By using a combination of antifungals and probiotics, he was able to clear the infection and reestablish the healthy bacterial colonies he needed. He also had two major food allergens that dramatically affected his digestion independent of the Candida. His diarrhea ended only after treating the Candida and completely removing the offending foods from his diet. After two months, he was nearly completely healed and his problem did not return.

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