IBS is really common. In fact, more people have IBS than other leading chronic health conditions, including endometriosis, asthma, and diabetes. Common IBS myths can make one dismissive of his or her own health issues. Believing that IBS symptoms are just another form of dairy and gluten intolerances, or that IBS symptoms are all in your head, or that IBS only affects your gut, overlooks the daily suffering that one faces in the mind, in one’s social life, work life, and beyond.
IBS is defined by healthcare professionals as recurrent symptoms of abdominal pain and changes in stool consistency. Further, there are three distinct categories of IBS that people experience: IBS diarrhea (IBSD), IBS constipation (IBSC), and IBS with mixed diarrhea and constipation. Other common symptoms can include abdominal bloating, excessive gas, and nausea. Some people experience mildly irritating symptoms while others can experience disruptive and debilitating symptoms that last for hours, days, or weeks.
Contrary to popular belief, IBS is not thought to be caused by food intolerances. The most common factors thought to be associated with causing symptoms in people with IBS include the following:
- Gastrointestinal Sensitivity: The feeling of discomfort from pain, bloating, gas etc. is more noticeable in those with gastrointestinal sensitivity. At some point everyone experiences an upset stomach, but if you regularly deal with discomfort, indigestion, or changing bowel habits, you may have Gastrointestinal Sensitivity.
- Altered Intestinal Motility: Motility is a term used to describe the transit of food and waste products through the gastrointestinal tract. Coordinated movements of the stomach and intestines are required to propel intestinal contents along the gastrointestinal tract. Other conditions such as Intussusception, more common in young children, can similarly cause irregularities in the movement of contents along the gastrointestinal tract.
- Changes in the gut microbiota: Gut microbiota is the population of microorganisms that keep your gut healthy and functioning. The gut microbiota provides essential capacities for the fermentation of non-digestible substrates like dietary fibers. Medication use, diet, and even changes to your mental state can influence these bacteria.
- Changes in the gut-brain interactions: The gut-brain axis (GBA) consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Feelings of stress and anxiety can impact the normal functioning of the gut-brain connection, which can result in gastrointestinal problem.
Since there is no single known cause of symptoms in IBS and no definitive cure for the condition, treatment is limited to methods that help manage your symptoms. Frustratingly, some treatments work for some people but not for others. Just a few minutes into your search for dietary therapies you’ll find that there are hundreds of diets that claim to help control or reduce symptoms associated with IBS. Unfortunately, many diets have little or no scientific evidence to validate their claims of efficacy. However, it is important to note that this does not mean that they do not have efficacy – just that science hasn’t proven it yet. Gut directed hypnotherapy (like Nerva) and following a low FODMAP diet are proving to be two of the more reliable IBS management options.