If you’ve ever been diagnosed with IBS (or Irritable Bowel Syndrome) you probably know by now it’s just a catch-all term for gut issues that we can’t explain. When there’s no real pharmaceutical tool to fix the unknown stomach trouble, you may have left your doctor’s office feeling like “what the heck do I do next?!”
Let’s work through some of the common symptoms of IBS and how a functional doctor digs deeper.
Gas & Bloating:
Your doctor should be looking for: where the gas and bloating is located.
If we could draw a horizontal line across your stomach and through your belly button, is the bloating concentrated on the top or bottom of the line? Take a second and think about this one. Most people would jump quick at saying ‘lower!’ but getting this question right could help differentiate between 2 common causes of gas and bloating.
Lower abdominal bloating – what does this tell us? The bacteria in our gut feed off of our leftovers and the secrete gasses. Too much of a bacterial colony that isn’t friendly to a human’s gut can cause this gas and bloating to get out of control.
Gas and bloating that is concentrated in the upper abdomen can be a sign of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Your small intestine is supposed to be relatively bacteria free, and there is an abundance of bacteria in there the gasses they secrete can cause you to be really uncomfortable.
Constipation / diarrhea:
Your doctor should be looking for: what you’re eating and drinking.
The first steps in treating constipation and diarrhea is keeping a thorough food diary. More than just “I had a salad” – I want to know all the toppings, dressings, and type of lettuce used (organic? Sprayed with pesticides?). Next, I want to know your symptoms, and bowel habits. Did you eat that salad and then have bloating and constipation for 2 days? Even if you didn’t get any symptoms right away, food sensitivities can be delayed 24- 72 hours after you eat that meal. All that information is valuable data to help make connections between your food and your gut.
Are you getting enough water? A responsibility of your colon is to reabsorb water from your stool. If you’re dehydrated and in serious need of some water, you’ll pull more from your gut making that waste hard and difficult to pass.
Anxiety / Depression:
Your doctor should be considering: how gut imbalances affect your brain.
Your gut is your first interaction with the outside world. It sees, feels, and is affected by everything that you consume. By taking certain medications and eating inflammatory foods you will disrupt that flora balance causing opportunity for unwanted bugs to take up residence. Bad bacteria, yeast (Candida), and parasites all secrete toxins that can inflame the nerves of the gut – and all those nerves signal back to the brain.
Finding the cause or contributing factors to your symptoms is how you personalize and target treatment of your IBS.
There is some testing you can do to help determine what’s going on inside:
Food intolerance panel
This test measures your immune system reaction to foods that you eat. Unlike skin prick allergy testing you may have had from an allergist which tests immediate reactions to what you come in contact too, this tests for delayed reactions. Delayed reactions may not cause your throat to close, but they can contribute to skin issues, headaches, constipation, diarrhea, gut health, autoimmunity, inflammation and much more. You provide just a small amount of blood and the lab determines which foods your immune system is reacting to. It’s a really useful test, but for the right person.
We always talk about the ‘bad bacteria’ in your gut but how do you actually know what’s living in there? When you provide a stool sample the lab will culture, grow and identify the bacteria that’s living in your poo. With this information we can accurately identify which bad bacteria is in there, and if you have a lack of good bacteria, allowing us to better target your treatment. This panel can also test for yeast overgrowth and parasites which are also culprits in IBS-like symptoms.
SIBO breath testing
While the stool sample will tell us what’s in your lower abdomen (colon), this breath test will tell us what bacteria is in your upper abdomen (small intestine). If you think you may have SIBO it’s important to test and not skip this step. There are 2 families of bacteria that can be living in your small intestine and they secrete 2 different gasses (hydrogen and methane). The treatment changes based on which family is predominant in your gut!
By asking more questions, doing the right testing, and taking targeted supplements you can fight off IBS for good.
Want a more thorough look at your digestion? Find out how we can help.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.