HOLISTIC HEALTH - December 2019
Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Spastic Colon
by Nancy Russell, M.D
Over 60 million Americans, two thirds of them women, struggle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or also termed spastic colon. A syndrome is a specific collection of symptoms with no known cause. Conventional medicine treats the symptoms of IBS, whereas Functional/Integrative medicine searches for underlying causes to get to the root of the problem.
An accurate description of IBS is when the muscles of the intestines spasm and cramp, causing abdominal pain, bloating, gas and with either constipation or diarrhea, or alternating bowel habits. IBS can be triggered by digestive disorders, hormonal imbalances or emotional distress.
Digestive disorders can be triggered by repetitive eating; eating the same foods day after day, antibiotic usage, steroid and hormone usage, and repetitive intake of Ibuprophen type medications and proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec. This digestive disorder may be called, “leaky gut” as damage to the one cell gut lining leads to food residues as well as infective organisms to migrate into the body which leads to IBS type symptoms. Leaky gut manifests as food allergies, food sensitivities, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), candida or other yeast overgrowth and occasionally parasite infection. Auto-immune intestinal disorders should also be considered such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Colonoscopy is useful for diagnosis of these more serious disorders.
Blood testing for celiac disease should always be ruled out, as this is a very damaging disease where gluten and all wheat products are damaging to the intestinal lining. Blood testing or food elimination diets can be helpful in determining if foods are causing IBS or other symptoms such as chronic sinusitis, headaches, fatigue, skin rashes, etc. Blood testing can differentiate between a food allergy versus a food sensitivity. When food sensitivities, or celiac disease or other auto-immune disease is present, comprehensive stool testing is helpful to determine if the leaky gut has led to an overgrowth of bacteria, yeast or parasite. Stool testing can also assess the need for digestive enzymes, probiotics and assess for malabsorption and auto-immune disorders of the intestines.
Appropriate natural or prescription treatments can then be determined.
Hormonal imbalances can also cause symptoms mimicking IBS. Low levels of thyroid hormone can lead to constipation as well as overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine or SIBO. Treatment of thyroid imbalance, even if it is borderline low, can be achieved by natural supplements with selenium, zinc, guggul lipid and occasionally iodine or prescription medications. Remember to ask to have the free T-3 thyroid hormone assessed in the blood tests as well as TSH and free T-4. Magnesium can also help with constipation while waiting for more specific treatments to be effective. Ask your medical provider if you can take magnesium if you have any kidney disorders.
Emotional issues, especially “buried feelings”, suppressed and unexpressed feelings about things that a person “can’t stomach” or that are a “pain in the butt” can surface as physical symptoms. Physical symptoms often surface as digestive symptoms, including IBS. Researchers at the University of Washington studied 229 women with and without IBS, tracking their stress levels and IBS symptoms for one month. Among women with the diagnosis of IBS, higher levels of stress were linked to worsening of IBS symptoms. The IBS treatment protocols that incorporate strategies that decrease stress and psychological distress such as anxiety and depression are likely to reduce GI symptoms. Strategies may include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, relaxation breathing, prayer and massage therapy.
If you are suffering from IBS or similar symptoms, remember to search for underlying factors and work with a functional/integrative medicine provider for a partnership in your health and well-being.
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Nancy Russell, M.D. has been a holistic Internal Medicine physician in the Kansas City northland for over 30 years at 5140 N. Antioch Road in Kansas City, MO.
Her phone number is 816-453-5545 and website is www.nancyrussellmd.com where you can get more information. Dr. Russell is board certified in holistic medicine and is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association and a prior board member.