Given that April is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) awareness month (yep, it’s a thing, look it up), we thought that it may be prudent to shed some light on a relatively common condition that affects as many as 20 percent of the North American population. And who better to help us understand this condition than the esteemed Dr. Colin MacLeod ND, a practicing naturopathic doctor with a specialty in pain management and maintaining health through physical activity and diet.
“People who suffer from IBS will often experience cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation,” says Dr. MacLeod. “Although the symptoms of diarrhea and constipation may seem conflicting one person with IBS may experience constipation while another experiences diarrhea, and yet another may have episodes of both in alternation.”
While the symptoms of IBS can be quite uncomfortable and in some cases painful, it is important to note that IBS does not cause significant damage to the gastrointestinal tract or increase the risk of developing bowel cancer.
When asked about the causes of IBS, Dr. MacLeod says that at present, the cause is not entirely clear but gastric motility (the muscular contraction of the intestines) is suspected to play a role.
People suffering from IBS may experience either sluggish or too rapid functioning of their intestinal tract. Either of these situations will contribute to abdominal discomfort and bloating, among other symptoms of IBS.
IBS can sometimes develop after a person catches a gastrointestinal virus or bacterial infection. Symptoms associated with IBS are typically not a constant baseline in a person life, rather they will report having flare-ups (periods where the symptoms are worse) and die downs (periods where the symptoms are absent or better). These flare-ups can often be caused by person’s physical, mental and emotional stress.
“A few steps can be taken by a person with IBS in order to improve their symptoms including avoiding common problem foods, eating at regular times and exercising regularly,” says Dr.
“Specific diets such as a gluten-free or low-FODMAP (fermentable carbohydrate) diets can also be helpful for some people who suffer from IBS. Increasing fiber intake is another dietary change which can improve IBS symptoms, but fiber should be increased gradually to avoid any adverse effects such as constipation.
“Certain probiotic or herbal formulas may be helpful for IBS symptoms but it is ideal to consult with a naturopathic doctor before taking supplements of this sort to ensure their safety and effectiveness.”
IBS is never a welcomed diagnosis for anyone, however, with it can be a very treatable condition. If you or someone you know is suffering from IBS, we encourage you to speak to a medical professional to discuss treatment options, because as much as the topic of IBS may be uncomfortable to bring up, living with IBS is even more uncomfortable.