Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects millions of people worldwide (myself, included). While it’s symptoms are well-documented and often discussed, the underlying causes of IBS are far from fully understood, making it an incredibly frustrating diagnosis.
Many people assume that diet alone is responsible for IBS discomfort, but there are several lesser-known root causes of IBS that deserve a lot more attention. As a gut health nutritionist, my mission is to shed light on these hidden triggers and help people suffering from IBS figure out the root cause of their symptoms to find long-term relief.
Here are the top 5 root causes of IBS I see in my practice that you may not have heard about:
1. Stress, Gut-Brain Axis, and Nervous System Dysregulation
After working with hundreds of clients with IBS, I can confidently say that Stress (whether acute or chronic) is the most underestimated trigger for IBS.
Our Gut and our brain are in constant communication via the Gut-Brain axis, and what affects one of these systems will absolutely have an impact on the other.
…Have you ever experienced an urge to use the bathroom before a big presentation or an exam? This is your gut and your brain communicating.
Stress can come in many different forms, including external stressors from relationships and work, physical stressors such as injuries or high intensity exercise, and even internal stressors due to infections, exposure to food sensitivities or inflammation. But regardless of the source, the physiological response is the same: Our brain perceives danger and activates the “fight or flight” response which which negatively impacts the Gut by causing changes in motility, impaired digestion, increased sensitivity and an overall increase in inflammation. All of these factors can trigger IBS.
2. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when there is a large amount of bacteria taking up residence in the small intestine, which is meant to be relatively stable. These bacteria feed off of certain types of carbohydrates and in doing so, produce gaseous bi-products that directly contribute to IBS symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea.
SIBO is an incredibly common driver of IBS. In fact, research suggests that SIBO may be involved in up to half of all IBS cases, with one study showing as high as 84%. This same study also showed that eradicating SIBO led to a 75% improvement in IBS symptoms - Yep, you heard me right!
Getting rid of SIBO is fairly straightforward, but relapse is common (with many people relapsing in as little as 3-weeks post-treatment). As a gut health nutritionist, my goal is to help my clients clear their SIBO while also addressing the reason SIBO showed up in the first place.
This is the key to preventing relapse!
3. Post-Infectious IBS
Post-infectious IBS occurs when IBS symptoms develop after an acute gastrointestinal infection or “episode”, such as food poisoning or a bacterial infection. The exact mechanisms behind this are not entirely clear, although in practice, I often see clients who have altered gut motility, lasting microbial infections (like parasites) or lasting gut inflammation that drives up symptoms. If you've had a severe stomach bug and now suffer from IBS-like symptoms, you might be experiencing post-infectious IBS. The good news is that I have seen tons of clients overcome post-infectious IBS using natural nutrition (and I’m not talking about restrictive elimination diets that you follow for life).
4. Dysbiosis and Gut Infections
Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance in the gut microbiota (gut bacteria). In a healthy Gut, the microbiome should be comprised of approximately 85% healthy bacteria (like probiotics), and 15% ‘unhealthy organisms’, like yeasts, bacteria or parasites. When this ratio is thrown off-balance, we tend to exhibit digestive symptoms.
In my clinic, I use a comprehensive gut health assessment and GI MAP stool testing to identify these imbalances and guide personalized gut healing nutrition plans.
5. Digestive Insufficiency
Some individuals with IBS may experience digestive insufficiency, which means their digestive system isn't functioning optimally. This may be insufficient stomach acid production, low digestive enzyme output from the pancreas, sluggish bile flow from the liver and gall bladder, or a combination of all three. When digestive secretions are sub-optimal, food isn’t broken down appropriately and can ferment in the digestive tract, leading to gas and bloating.
This can result from factors like enzyme deficiencies, low stomach acid, or poor bile production. Inadequate digestion can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, which can exacerbate IBS symptoms. Assessing your digestive function and addressing deficiencies can be a key part of IBS management.
How to Establish the Root Cause of your IBS
IBS can be complex and as you can see, there are many different mechanisms by which it can occur. If you are struggling with IBS or suspect that you might be, don't fret, I’ve got you. Understanding the root causes of your symptoms is the first step toward effective, long-term relief.
As a gut nutritionist, I use tools such as GI MAP testing and in-depth symptomatology assessments to help my clients pinpoint the underlying triggers of their IBS, whether it be SIBO, dysbiosis, gut infections, leaky gut, digestive insufficiency, and more. Armed with this knowledge, we can develop a personalized plan that targets the specific issues contributing to your IBS.
In conclusion, while IBS is a complex and often perplexing condition, it's essential to explore all possible root causes for effective management. Stress, SIBO, post-infectious IBS, dysbiosis, and digestive insufficiency are all significant contributors, and no two IBS cases are the same.
Don't let IBS hold you back any longer – take the first step toward lasting relief by booking a complimentary consultation with me today.