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Find out what physicians are saying about IBS—balancing gut ecology is the key to your recovery!
Since the 1970s, physicians have labeled IBS as a psychological disorder. This is because IBS symptoms are frequently made worse by stressful life events. And a physical exam shows no damage to the gut.
Over the last 20 years, research has revealed that the brain and our emotions share a strong relationship with the gut and the immune system.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a collection of symptoms that often point to poor digestion, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation
Although IBS can be aggravated by stress, it is much more than a psychological disorder. Theories behind the cause of IBS include bacterial overgrowth, gut infection, serotonin imbalance, or even depression and anxiety.
Those affected by IBS can also experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, fibromyalgia, belching, and sometimes nausea.
The Causes of IBS
The cause of IBS is unknown, but there are several theories:
1. Depression and Anxiety: Originally, IBS was no more than a psychological diagnosis—like depression or anxiety. Physicians could find no physical evidence of IBS. Even though emotional stress does activate the release of stress hormones and shuts down digestive function, it does not cause IBS. (1)(2)
2. Serotonin Imbalance: When we later figured out some of the biochemistry in the gut, researchers focused on a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin alone does not cause IBS, but controlling it with medication can provide short-term relief. (3)(4)
3. Gut Infection: After realizing that people with a history of food poisoning were often diagnosed with IBS, physicians began using antibiotic therapy. It worked. As it turns out, IBS may be the result of a gut infection. (5)(6) And now, some of the most recent medical literature has connected the dots. We know that stress, neurotransmitters, the immune system, and the gut all play a role in the development of IBS. So what does this mean in your body?
4. Bacterial Overgrowth: IBS may be related to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (otherwise known as SIBO). In support of this theory, we know that you can control IBS with a “low residue” diet, which removes hard-to-digest sugars. One hallmark sign of both IBS and bacterial overgrowth is gas and bloating. While stress will always irritate digestive function, research shows that both gluten and a leaky gut contribute to signs of IBS—and to bacterial overgrowth. (7)(8)
Serotonin: What Is a Brain Chemical Doing in the Gut?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter—or brain chemical—that is responsible for a feeling of confidence and wellbeing. While serotonin is mostly known as a brain chemical, the cells lining the gut wall secrete much of your serotonin. As much as 90% of the serotonin in your body can be found in your gut. (9)
If serotonin is responsible for things like happiness and a sense of wellbeing, what is it doing in the gut?
It turns out that serotonin can do more than lift your spirits.
As researchers began to learn more about the gut, they found that serotonin regulates movement in the intestines. In other words, too little serotonin can contribute to constipation (or slow transit time). Too much serotonin can contribute to diarrhea (or fast transit time).
Serotonin’s affect on transit time led researchers to develop drugs that manipulated serotonin. It also led doctors to use antidepressants to treat signs of IBS. (10) But what happens when serotonin isn’t the problem—when it is only a symptom of the problem?
IBS and Your Wounded Inner Ecosystem
Dr. Michael Gershon, chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University, helped to reveal that the gut and the brain are an interconnected network of nerve tissue.
The gut is your “second brain.” And it turns out that your “second brain” can give out orders, as well as the brain that belongs to your central nervous system. In fact, the gut contains more nerve tissue than the brain. (11)
Besides nerve tissue, a thin lining of cells along the gut wall protects your body from large food particles and bacteria. Beneath this cell wall is your immune system. Above this cell wall are bacteria and yeast. All together, this is your inner ecosystem.
When the inner ecosystem of the gut is wounded, there may be:
- Too Little Stomach Acid. An infection or stress hormones can both impair the production of stomach acid. This brings the digestive process to a halt.
- Enzyme Deficiency. The small intestine needs specific enzymes to keep food and bacteria moving along. When there are not enough enzymes, food putrefies in the small intestine.
- Bacterial Overgrowth. The small intestine should be relatively free of bacteria—even good bacteria. The bulk of bacteria and yeast that make up your inner ecosystem is found in your large intestine. Large colonies of bacteria in the small intestine can cause cramping, pain, gas, and bloating.
- Leaky Gut. A permeable gut lining allows yeast, toxins from bacteria, and large food particles into your bloodstream. This is also known as “leaky gut.”
- Food Sensitivities. An inflamed and “leaky” gut will allow food particles to cross into the bloodstream. This activates a response from the immune system. One of the best ways to heal food sensitivities is to seal the gut. There are some foods that you may always be sensitive to—like gluten. (12)
The most current medical research tells us that IBS is the result of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Also referred to as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), bacterial overgrowth is caused by low stomach acid, enzyme deficiency, and leaky gut.
Bacterial overgrowth can lead to leaky gut. (13) It can also contribute to the development of food sensitivities.
How to Tackle IBS
You can heal your wounded inner ecology by conquering gut infections, sealing the lining of the gut, and inoculating the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria.
In order to conquer gut infections, many doctors are now beginning to prescribe low doses of antibiotic therapy. While this may resolve symptoms of IBS, over the long-term antibiotic therapy can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic therapy also does not restore the integrity of a robust inner ecosystem.
The bottom line is that we can address both IBS and bacterial overgrowth with steps that maintain a healthy inner ecosystem, like:
- You support the production of stomach acid. Signs of weak stomach acid and bacterial overgrowth include heartburn. You can prevent heartburn by boosting the production of stomach acid with HCl, as Assist Dairy and Protein was designed to do.
- You support pancreatic enzymes in the small intestine. Remember, researchers now believe that IBS is the result of bacterial overgrowth. While stomach acid activates enzymes, you must also make sure that there are plenty of enzymes in the small intestine. Otherwise, food sits stagnant in the small intestine and feeds bacterial overgrowth. Assist SI is formulated to work specifically in the small intestine.
- The good bacteria outnumber the bad. One of the best ways to eliminate a gut infection and maintain a hearty inner ecosystem is to crowd out the bad guys. This means plenty of probiotic-rich fermented foods or a high-quality probiotic liquid with specific strains of bacteria and yeast.<
- You eat a “low residue” diet. In addition to the Body Ecology Diet (sugar-free, casein-free, and gluten-free), you may want to begin by avoiding foods that contain fiber and hard-to-digest sugars. These foods fall into a category known as FODMAPs. They can be eliminated from the diet and then slowly reintroduced—as your gut heals and based on your unique level of tolerance.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
For decades, many physicians have considered IBS to be a psychological disorder since symptoms can be aggravated by stress. Irritable bowel syndrome may cause issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. IBS sufferers may experience insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
While the exact cause of IBS remains unknown, medical research links bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine with IBS, often triggered by enzyme deficiency, low stomach acid, and a leaky gut.
You can find IBS relief by taking these steps to boost your inner ecology:
- Support stomach acid production and beat heartburn with Assist Dairy and Protein.
- Support pancreatic enzymes in the small intestine to keep food moving with Assist SI.
- Eliminate a gut infection by balancing the digestive tract with friendly bacteria from fermented foods or a probiotic liquid.
- Follow Body Ecology Diet principles and eat low residue foods that are easier to digest.
- KR Jones, et al. Systematic review of the comorbidity of irritable bowel syndrome with other disorders: what are the causes and implications? Gastroenterology. 2002; 122 (4): 1140–56.
- F Taguchi, et al. Brain-gut response to stress and cholinergic stimulation in irritable bowel syndrome. A preliminary study. J. Clin. Gastroenterol. 1993; 17 (2): 133–41.
- PS Masand, et al. Atypical antipsychotics as a possible treatment option for irritable bowel syndrome. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2013 Mar 19. [Epub ahead of print]
- MD Gershon, et al. Neuropeptides and inflammatory bowel disease. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology: November 2009; 25 (6): 503-511.
- C Lam, et al. An Update on Post-infectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Role of Genetics, Immune Activation, Serotonin and Altered Microbiome. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2012 Jul;18(3):258-68. doi: 10.5056/jnm.2012.18.3.258. Epub 2012 Jul 10.
- M Pimentel, et al. The effect of a nonabsorbed oral antibiotic (rifaximin) on the symptoms of the irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized trial. Ann. Intern. Med. 2006;145 (8): 557–63.
- M Simren, et al. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gut. 2007; 56 (6): 802–8.
- M Pimentel, et al. The Prevalence of Overgrowth by Aerobic Bacteria in the Small Intestine by Small Bowel Culture: Relationship with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Dig. Dis. Sci. 2012; 57 (5): 1321–29.
- BL Roth, et al. The expanded biology of serotonin. Annu. Rev. Med. 2009; 60: 355–66.
- M Pimentel. The New IBS Solution: Bacteria—The Missing Link In Treating IBS. Van Nuys: Health Point Press, 2006.
- MD Gershon. The Second Brain: The Scientific Basis of Gut Instinct and a Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
- AR Zinsmeister, et al. A Controlled Trial of Gluten-Free Diet in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome-Diarrhea: Effects on Bowel Frequency and Intestinal Function. Gastroenterology. 2013 Jan 25. pii: S0016-5085(13)00135-2. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.01.049. [Epub ahead of print]
- M Secondulfo, et al. Cellobiose and lactulose coupled with mannitol and determined using ion-exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection, are reliable probes for investigation of intestinal permeability. J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2003; 783: 349–357.