Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
© Katie Stage, NMD
Many patients with IBS are told that the condition has no cure. Sometimes, it is implied that the patient is to blame for their symptoms. Patients should be reassured that this is not the case, and that IBS (and other GI conditions) are very treatable.
60-70 million people in the United States are affected by gastrointestinal conditions, which include digestive disorders, reflux, gall bladder diseases, liver diseases, and pancreatic disease (excluding diabetes).
One of the most common gastrointestinal disorders is IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome. About 11% of the population is affected by IBS, but only about 30% of them will seek treatment. The symptoms of IBS include frequent abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or alternating diarrhea and constipation. Often, symptoms are associated in changes in the appearance of the stools, and for most people, having a bowel movement will alleviate some of the uncomfortable symptoms.
Naturopathic physicians will run tests to rule out conditions such as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), Celiac disease, and other conditions that could be causing damage to the digestive organs. This work-up would be similar to what a conventional physician, or gastrointestinal specialist, would order.
However, if IBS is the correct diagnosis, naturopathic physicians go further to investigate the cause. A naturopathic physician might do testing to evaluate for food sensitivities, parasites, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Other considerations include tests to evaluate the microbiome, or the micro-organisms that inhabit the colon. There can be beneficial, neutral, and problematic micro-organisms in the colon, and restoring a healthy balance of beneficial organisms is crucial for a healthy digestion. New research also shows that a healthy microbiome influences the immune system, nutrient absorption, hormone balance, mood, weight, and blood sugar.
Once the cause of the IBS symptoms is determined, a naturopathic physician can treat this imbalance. Treatment might include dietary changes, targeted probiotics, or herbs or supplements that decrease gastrointestinal permeability. Many naturopathic physicians also support GI healing with therapies such as constitutional hydrotherapy, acupuncture, homeopathy, and counseling on lifestyle activities that can be supportive of healing. The treatment will always be individualized to the patient, and will always consider the whole person, not just their GI symptoms. This optimizes results.
Many patients with IBS are told that the condition has no cure. Sometimes, it is implied that the patient is at blame for their symptoms. Patients should be reassured that this is not the case, and that IBS (and other GI conditions) are very treatable.
Dr. Stage is a Naturopathic Physician and Registered Herbalist who practices general family medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM). Her practice focuses on women’s medicine, gastrointestinal diseases, and mental health.
In addition to her private practice, she is Assistant Professor of Naturopathic Medicine at SCNM, where she supervises clinical rotations at the medical center and teaches botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, GYN lab, and clinical skills. Dr. Stage frequently lectures on naturopathic and botanical medicine. She also teaches students Mayan healing techniques. Prior to medical school, Dr. Stage graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A./B.S. in anthropology and philosophy.
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