The irritation of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Explanation of Condition

Many of you have probably heard of the condition known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, a condition affecting both the large and small intestine – characterized by symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea and/or constipation.

IBS has become increasingly prevalent in our society, causing a huge amount of distress that severely impacts everyday life.

What’s actually happening down there? The truth is, no one is quite sure – yet. Functionally, the many layers of the intestinal wall contract and relax rhythmically to move food along the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT). In IBS, this rhythm can be severely disrupted – causing diarrhoea and/or constipation respectively.

Why/How does it occur? Causes?

There are a variety of possibly triggers in IBS sufferer’s. The most common I see in clinic are related to stress, which I believe may be part of the essential aetiology of the condition – as well as an aggravating factor. Other stimuli may include:

Food: The role of intolerance or allergy is at present poorly understood. However, standard protocols suggest chocolate, spices, fats, fruit, beans, vegetables of the Brassica family, milk, soft-drinks and alcohol may cause irritation.

Hormones: Women tend to make up the largest part of IBS sufferers. It is thought that hormonal changes may exacerbate symptoms.


Most common symptoms include but are not exclusive to:

–          Abdominal pain and/or cramping

–          Bloating

–          Excess gas

–          Diarrhoea or Constipation. Sometimes alternating between the two

–          Mucous in the stool

–          Indigestion


There are a few ways to treat IBS, one of the most effective ways of managing its symptoms is through diet modification. It’s important to realize though, that as its such a variable condition in terms of cause and symptoms – various treatments may work better than others.

Firstly, eliminating gas-producing foods can significantly reduce bloating and distension. So try to cut out vegetables from the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), carbonated drinks and raw fruit.


Although the relationship is unclear, the elimination of gluten appears to ease symptoms. This may stem from an inflammatory response gluten has even on the gut tissue of unaffected people. In a person with IBS, the gut is incredibly sensitive and so even this small amount of inflammation is simply too much, therefore triggering unwanted symptoms.


One of the most recent findings is the effects FODMAP’s (a much needed acronym for Fermentable Oligo- Di- and Mono- saccharides and Polyols) have on the intestine of IBS sufferers. It is thought that these components found in a vast array of grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy products are unable to be properly absorbed by the small intestine, leading to a significant exacerbation of IBS symptoms.

Treatment can often involve measures to what is classically termed Naturopathically as ‘healing and sealing’ the gut, helping it repair the underlying inflammation and building up healthy intestinal tissue. Besides diet, stress-coping techniques are often utilized, as are herbs and/or nutritional supplements such as Slippery Elm, Glutamine and Probiotics to optimize digestive health.

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