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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:
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 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 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?
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:
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.
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:
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:
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