I want to talk about some of my least favorite things.
Stomach pain, flatulence, bloating, the runs, and constipation. Does this sound like you?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a really common, in fact it’s the most common condition I see as a naturopath. However there’s no simple solution. Everyone is different and what’s causing your trouble may not be the same as your friend.
Numerous theories abound as to what may be causing your digestive upset. I’m going to cover the most researched hypotheses right here.
Your brain is in communication with your digestive system via a few different pathways in your nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system is known as ‘the rest and digest’ nervous system. This is switched on when you feel relaxed and there is no danger. Conversely the sympathetic nervous system is your ‘fight and fright.’ When you’re feeling stressed this will be switched on.
When you’re in stress mode, your body switches on your brain and muscles and turns off your digestive system. This is because digesting the food you just ate is the last thing you need to be doing when you’re in danger. No you need to be running away and figuring out how to outsmart the threat.
If you’re chronically stressed, this has an ongoing negative impact on your gut, where food in not digested properly causing pain and discomfort. You’ll also be missing out on the nutrients in your food because you won’t be absorbing them properly.
Altered Serotonin Signalling
You may have heard of this neurotransmitter that often has feelings such as happiness and joy attributed to its actions. Did you know much of your bodies serotonin is actually manufactured in the gut? 95% of body stores are found in the digestive system. Serotonin has a major action on your gut motility – that is how well your digestive system passes food from one end to the other.
Researchers have found an excessive level of serotonin is likely to cause diarrhoea whereas too little tends to cause constipation.
Do you have an awareness of your digestive function? People with IBS tend to have a painful awareness of the stomach, small intestines and large intestines. Increased hypersensitivity has been associated with lower levels of serotonin.
After a severe bout of gastroenteritis the upset to your happy commune of gut bacteria may be enough to completely through the balance out of whack and IBS symptoms ensue. The harsher the infection, the more likely you will develop post-infection IBS. Other risk factors include depression, being female, longer duration of illness and fever.
Alterations in Gut Flora
Gut flora is commonly altered in incidences of IBS. This can be caused by antibiotic use, poor diet, the contraceptive pill, stress, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Alterations in gut flora can eventually lead to overgrowth of the wrong kinds of gut bugs leading to poor immune defence and less production of short chain fatty acids. These short chain acids help water absorption and also feed the good bacteria. They are crucial to good gut health.
Bacteria who are good in one place can be bad in another. Sometimes they start colonising in places they shouldn’t, such as your small intestine. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is found in 50% of IBS cases.
Possible causes for SIBO include gastrointestinal surgery, proton pump inhibitors (medications for indigestion such as Omneprazole), immune insufficiency and malnutrition.
SIBO has been associated with medical conditions such as depression, acromegaly, diverticulitis and interstitial cystitis, cystic fibrosis and fibromyalgia.
Food Hypersensitivity and Intolerance
Do your symptoms get worse after you eat certain foods? Some food intolerances may be because you lack an enzyme required to break the food down. For example you may lack lactase required to break down lactose, a milk sugar found in dairy. Others might be because your body can’t transport that kind of food molecule effectively. Basically in some way shape or form, your body is just not equipped to deal with that food.
When you do eat one of these foods you can’t handle, your intestinal wall becomes inflamed. This inflammation causes further sensitivity and creates even more intolerance. Food you were able to eat as a teenager is suddenly making you feel very under the weather.
The good news is, you may be able to recover from most of your intolerances once the daddy of all intolerances (milk, fruit, wheat, soy whatever it is for you) is removed from your diet).
If you regularly suffer digestive discomfort I’m sure you might have an idea or two about what might be contributing to your symptoms, especially after reading the above. Once we figure out the source of your discomfort we can go about treating you as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Naturopaths are great at treating gut problems. We have an arsenal of gut soothing herbs, intestinal wall repairing nutrients, and can offer support and direction in your dietary choices. You don’t have to live your life afraid to go out in case you suffer a flare up/make a lot of smelly gas/feel bloated and disgusting.
I wish you peaceful meals
Sheppach W, 1994, GUT an International Journal of Gastroentology and Hepatology Effects of Short Chain Fatty Acids on Gut Morphology and Function.
Hectman L 2012, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier
Gorgeous photo credit to artist Camila Carlow, isn’t it amazing? A floral digestive system. I love x