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Photo by EvilErin on flickr (picture unaltered). License: Attribution

 

I have a fairly good sense of humor when it comes to the bathroom, and I think everybody should. Lighten up about it; laugh about it; it’s a fact of life. Bathroom jokes are also a great way to laugh off embarrassing situations, but there is a line between the occasional joke and every day occurrences. Do you find that you have to make jokes, excuses, or even denial for your bathroom problems on a regular basis? If its past the point of the occasional awkward joke, you may want to investigate possible health problems you could be facing.

Here are some signs there could be something wrong:
  • Gas (flatulence or burping)
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating
  • Loud stomach noises (that aren’t due to hunger)
  • Stomach cramping
  • Nausea
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • Mucous in stool

Irritable Bowel Syndome (IBS) is classified as when a person has had abdominal pain or discomfort at least three times a month for the last 3 months without other disease or injury that could explain the pain (2). When my digestive problems were at their worst I experienced unpleasant symptoms by the end of most days. It is estimated that IBS affects 3-20% of the adult population. The problem is, if you are diagnosed with IBS your MD can’t really do anything else for you, other that prescribe laxatives or other generic medication. IBS is not a specific diagnosis; it is a blanket term for any kind of digestive issues that cannot be explained by IBD, ulcers, or other more serious conditions. Because there isn’t one specific cause, they can’t prescribe a specific medication to relieve it. If you have a good MD, they may prescribe probiotics, which is great but on their own they most likely won’t completely resolve IBS symptoms.

Many people just get used to it and tell themselves it is normal; but it isn’t normal. Telling yourself that chronic digestive issues is normal is a dangerous thing. Experiencing chronic digestive problems is damaging to your health because it means your body is not getting all the nutrients from your food. If you make an effort to eat healthy food, all that effort could be going to waste if your body isn’t absorbing the nutrients properly. All your health and vitality stem from your body’s ability to extract and absorb nutrients from the food you eat. If your body can’t do that, it’s not going to be able to do much else.

 

photo by RLHyde on flickr. license: attribution-sharealike

 

More and more research is coming out linking gut health to other aspects of health such as skin conditions, autoimmunity, and even mental health disorders. For example, research has found that there are differences between the intestinal flora of autistic children vs average children (4). Studies also show that in patients with IBD (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) intestinal flora has reduced amounts of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria and increased amounts of anaerobic bacteria (5). Another study found that probiotic cultures may influence the fatty acid composition in the brain (6).

The bottom line is: gut health is important to overall health. Health issues aside, experiencing chronic GI issues diminishes your quality of life. Mapping out public washrooms, or spending all your money on Imodium, Tums, GasX, and whatever else you can get your hands on is not really the way most people would choose to spend their free time. Being in constant discomfort is not any way to go through life, so here are common causes to IBS that medical doctors don’t consider, and what you can do about it:

 

Photo by niaid on flickr (picture unaltered). License: Attribution

 

1. Bacterial Overgrowth

 

This is one of the most common causes of IBS. Bacterial overgrowth can be due to candida yeast, other types of bacteria, or even parasites. However, the most common one is candida. Candida yeast is a parasitic yeast that grows in your colon and feeds on sugar and starches. If you eat a highly refined carbohydrate diet, the chances are candida is contributing to your symptoms. These organisms are living things so when they eat, they produce waste in the form of toxic chemicals and gas. Those really putrid smelling farts you have been having could be due to these guys having a feast in your GI track. The best way to figure out what you have is to visit a naturopath (ND) where they can test you for parasites, candida, and other forms of bacterial overgrowth. If you cannot afford to see an ND you can try doing a candida cleanse followed by the diet to see if this helps your symptoms. However, the candida diet should not be attempted while pregnant or with other serious health problems. It is in your best interest to consult with an ND to make sure the candida diet is appropriate for you before you attempt it. If you would like to learn how to do a candida diet, click here.

 

photo by bobbi bowers on flickr. license: attribution-noderivs

 

2. Food Sensitivities/Allergies

 

Food sensitivities are very tricky to determine without the help of an ND, but if you are very diligent you may be able to figure them out. Performing a strict elimination diet followed by the reintroduction of suspected trouble foods (one at a time) is the most accurate way to figure out your food sensitivities. Unfortunately this takes a fair amount of time, patience, willpower, and awareness. Sometimes just doing an elimination diet for a while can be enough to resolve your intolerance (as they aren’t usually a permanent thing). People with IBS should suspect dairy, wheat, and refined products such as white sugar and flour as possible trigger foods. However, even inherently healthy foods such as tomatoes can be trouble for some. I recommend following the autoimmune protocol (AIP) for suspected sensitivities/allergies. Click here to learn more about AIP.

 

photo by vmiramontes on flickr. license: attribution

 

3. Fructose Malabsorption

 

Some people have a dietary intolerance to fructose where their intestine cannot properly absorb it. Symptoms for fructose malabsorption are similar to IBS. If you find that you only experience symptoms after eating fruit or other fructose containing foods, fructose malabsorption may be the root of your problem. If you suspect that this is the problem, you should first try cutting out fruit and other fructose containing foods from your diet. If you are still experiencing IBS symptoms after eliminating those foods, then a low FODMAP diet may be the solution you are looking for, which includes eliminating other carbohydrates from the diet as well. If you want to read more on FODMAPs, please check out this article.

 

4. Stress

 

Eating while stressed is not ideal. Stress kicks in the good old “fight or flight” response. While your body is determining whether it should fight or flight, your body isn’t really thinking too much about digesting the food that is in your stomach. This goes for all types of stress. From a biological point of view your body doesn’t distinguish between confronting your boss at work or getting chased by a bear. It’s not going to matter what is in your stomach if you get mauled by a bear, so your body puts it on low priority. Some people feel the need to eat more as a coping mechanism when stressed but this is really hard on your body and can produce IBS symptoms. The best thing you can do is avoid eating while stressed, and try to reduce stress in your life where possible. Check out my article here on how to manage stress naturally.

 

photo by Ewan M on flickr. license: attribution

 

5. Overeating and Eating too Frequently

 

Overeating causes indigestion because your body will not have enough digestive enzymes for you to completely digest your food. Eating too often is also a problem people don’t usually consider, because many fad diets tell you how eating every 2 hours will boost your metabolism. This really shouldn’t be followed because it takes your body 3-4 hours to fully digest a meal, sometimes even longer if it was a high protein and fat meal. The best thing you can do is wait until you actually feel hungry before you eat your next meal. Try to avoid eating just because it’s a certain time of the day, you are bored, or any other reason besides actual hunger.

 

6. Eating too Close to Bedtime

 

Eating close to bed is a double whammy on your health. Not only does it mess up your digestion, it also messes up your sleep. If you are someone who frequently eats late at night, try to avoid eating 2-4 hours before bed. The more time between eating and sleeping, the better. This ensures that your body has finished digesting your food before sleep so it can focus on more important things. This is a two-way street; if you have a terrible night sleep your digestion will be affected by it. It is best to only eat if you feel hungry after having a bad night sleep as this will minimize your chances of experiencing IBS symptoms.

 

photo by ebruli on flickr. license: attribution

 

7. General Poor Diet

 

If you aren’t eating well, your digestion will be the first thing to suffer. Many junk foods are difficult for your body to break down, and even when they are broken down; there is no nutrients. When your body is having trouble breaking down your food you may experience symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Junk foods also usually contain common allergens such as wheat, dairy, soy, etc. In addition, junk foods are usually high in refined sugars and starches which promote candida overgrowth.

If you are looking to change your diet and aren’t sure what you should try, I recommend you try the paleo diet as a general diet to help IBS symptoms. I personally found that the paleo diet helped improve my symptoms, and the autoimmune protocol helped me eliminate them entirely.

It can be a bit of a process finding the diet and lifestyle that helps your symptoms the most, so remember to be patient with yourself and don’t give up!

 

References

(1) Autoimmune enteropathy: is there a generalized autoimmune gut disorder?

(2) Irritable Bowel Syndrome

(3) The impact of nutrition on autoimmune disease Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

(4) Differences between the gut microflora of children with autistic spectrum disorders and that of healthy children. 

(5) Bacteria and Virus associates with Crohn’s disease

(6) Probiotic bacteria may influence brain fatty acid composition
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