In the realm of digestive disorders, one condition that continues to baffle both patients and medical professionals alike is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). With its often unpredictable nature, IBS affects millions across the globe, bringing about a range of uncomfortable symptoms that disrupt daily life. While a single, definitive cause of IBS may not have been found, researchers have made substantial headway in identifying key factors that play a pivotal role in its onset and progression. In this article, we’ll delve deep into the three most common causes of IBS: microbial causes, gut-brain axis dysregulation, and food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities, and how they can all play a role in the development of IBS.
It’s worth noting that IBS is a condition characterised by certain symptomatic criteria in addition to no evidence of structural or biochemical abnormalities that can explain the symptoms. However, many of the underlying causes of IBS simply don’t get tested for and are often dismissed. This article goes into these true underlying causes of misdiagnosed gut issues that have been labelled as IBS.
1. Microbial Causes
The human gut is a thriving ecosystem populated by a diverse number of microorganisms that contribute to our overall health and well-being. However, when the balance of this delicate ecosystem is disrupted, the consequences can be profound, especially when it comes to gut issues like IBS.
Parasitic infections are a well-studied culprit behind gastrointestinal disturbances, often triggering inflammation and sparking a cascade of symptoms mirroring IBS. However, often these pesky little bugs don’t get the attention they deserved by the medical community. When these unwelcome guests take residence in the gut, they disrupt the harmony of the microbiota, causing havoc and potentially paving the way for IBS.
Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Bacteria, both beneficial and harmful, coexist within the gastrointestinal tract. However, an overabundance of bacteria can spell trouble. Enter Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), where an excessive population of bacteria in the small intestine disrupts digestion, leading to symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, and altered bowel habits – hallmarks of IBS.
Dysbiosis, a term that signifies an imbalance between good and bad bacteria, is a potential trigger for IBS. This microbial misalignment can set off a chain reaction, unleashing inflammation and contributing to the onset of symptoms. Interestingly, the microbial culprits behind dysbiosis also play a significant role in disrupting the delicate equilibrium of the gut-brain axis, plunging IBS sufferers into a cycle of discomfort.
2. Gut-Brain Axis Dysregulation
The gut-brain axis is a dynamic and intricate communication network connecting our gut and brain. When this connection experiences turbulence, the effects ripple throughout the body, often aggravating IBS symptoms.
Microbial Involvement in IBS
The gut microbiota wields a powerful influence over the gut-brain axis. A disrupted microbial balance can trigger changes in brain function and mood, contributing to the emotional and cognitive aspects of IBS. The microbes dwelling within us, once again, emerge as major players in this complex scenario.
Stress and IBS
Stress, anxiety, and depression aren’t just figments of the mind; they have a tangible impact on the gut. This connection can swing both ways – emotional turmoil can disrupt gut function, while gut distress can evoke emotional responses. In the context of IBS, this stress-gut interplay often intensifies symptoms, creating a vicious cycle that’s tough to break.
3. Food Intolerances, and Sensitivities
The role of food in IBS is a complex one, entwined with allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities that can trigger or exacerbate symptoms.
Intolerances and Sensitivities:
Non-immune reactions to specific foods can lead to IBS-like symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Lactose and fructose are just a couple of examples of substances that can set off these reactions. Sensitivities to certain foods can cause a more subtle and delayed response in the body with immune system involvement, causing the common symptoms of bloating, stool changes and abdominal pain. Interestingly, microbial imbalances within the gut can intensify these responses, highlighting the intricate dance between our gut inhabitants and our dietary choices.
Microbial Connection To Food
Microbial imbalances can have a cascading effect, triggering food sensitivities and intolerances. By influencing gut permeability and immune responses, these imbalances can make the gut more reactive to certain foods, further complicating the landscape of IBS triggers.
Common Foods That Cause IBS Symptoms
The list of foods for contributing/causing IBS is extremely long. However the following are the most common foods to look out for: FODMAPs, Lactose, Gluten/Wheat, Dairy, Soy, and Eggs.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome remains an intricate puzzle with multiple pieces. The three common causes and contributors – microbial influences, gut-brain axis dysregulation, and food reactions – that have been discussed in this article, play a significant role in majority of IBS cases. Identifying these with appropriate testing from your gut specialist naturopath, doctor or holistic medical practitioner is strongly advised. This will lead the way for a multi-faceted approach to dealing with the root cause of your IBS once and for all!
Written by Darren Tremaine (BHSc)
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