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Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Diagnosis That Leaves You in Limbo…

By Dr. Ilana Gurevich ND, LAc

For years you've known that something with your gut just isn’t right. For as long as you can remember, digestion has been more painful than easy. You suffer from gas,bloating, diarrhea or constipation. At times it even seems like one minute your bowels are totally loose, and the next minute nothing is moving at all, for days.

After a while, you start looking for what’s wrong. You might go online and plug your symptoms into WebMD, or you might try going to your doctor to see if they can figure it out. Finally, a diagnosis comes through: Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Now a diagnosis; but what do you do next? You look at all the websites, and what you find isn’t much of a relief. It says that many people suffer from IBS, but no one knows the cause. There isn’t a cure for IBS. They tell you that sometimes changing your diet may help, but they don’t tell you how. And finally, they tell you to not be so stressed out!  All in all, after you get your diagnosis, you are still in the same place you were before you had it.

The reason that the standard treatment for IBS doesn’t work is because the Internet and your doc are not looking at the way that YOUR digestive system is working. By definition, the word “syndrome” means a group of symptoms that occur together, but don’t fit into a “disease.” Basically, a syndrome is an acknowledgement that people suffer from things like diarrhea or constipation, but MDs don’t know anything more than that. IBS is a “diagnosis of exclusion.” What that means is that all of the standard western medical tests have been run, and they are all normal, so they can’t see anything physically wrong.  However, you complain of discomfort and pain, so you get put into a syndrome diagnosis. That will help the docs categorize you, but it won’t really help you.

There is real help for you, however. It revolves around looking at your history and your gut and how it all works together. The intestinal tract is like an orchestra, where lots of different things work together to create beautiful music. When they are all working well together, then you feel great and have no symptoms.  But when one or a couple of things stop working, that’s when you start feeling it.

Some of the biggest players in the gut are what are called “probiotics.” You may have heard a lot about these guys recently. Let me tell you what they do: Probiotics are good bugs that live on your gut lining. You should actually have more good bugs in your gut than you have cells in all the rest of your body! That’s how important they are. However, they are very sensitive to destruction as well. Every time you take anti-biotics, these will kill the bad guys (which are giving you an infection) as well as killing the good probiotics in your gut, hence affecting digestion.

When you kill of the “good bugs” through antibiotics or other factors, what you’re left with is bad guys who have been there all along, but in small groups. Those bad guys couldn’t expand because there were all those good probiotics crowding them out. The first thing to do when you get diagnosed with IBS is to start taking probiotics. Many commercials on TV claim that foods like yogurt have probiotics in them. It is correct that they do, however, to get the amount of probiotics you would need to make a difference in digestion, you would need to eat a bathtub of yogurt daily. There are certain important strains of probiotics that can help as well: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bifidus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifidobacterium spp, and Enterococcus faecium are the names of a few. 15 billion CFU is a good starting place in terms of dosage.  Probiotics also make a difference in your immune system and your urinary system.

The way you eat also makes a huge difference with digestion. Your digestive system was made to work in the parasympathetic state.  What that means is that when you’re eating, you’re supposed to be resting and digesting. Most people these days eat on the run. Your body doesn’t digest foods while you’re running! In fact, just the opposite thing happens. If you are under stress, blood flow is shifted away from your gut to your arms, legs and brain. This is useful when you’re at work, but it very bad when you’re eating. What should be happening when you’re eating is that you are sitting, in no hurry, and able to slowly enjoy your food. Then you have time after your meal to digest the food, as opposed to running to your next meeting or errand. Giving yourself time to eat is one of the best gifts you can give your gut.

Probiotics and eating in a relaxed state are things that can help almost everyone with poor digestion, but they don’t look at the underlying problem of IBS. Believe it or not, there are really good tests that can tell us exactly what’s going on with your gut! They are tests that look for pathogenic bacterial, fungal and parasitic growth, as well as looking functionally at what’s going on in your gut. These may not be the most pleasant tests to take, as you have to collect a stool sample, but they do give a lot of information. As a naturopathic doctor, I think it’s important to figure out what exactly is going on in your gut. These tests help me do that. They are vital tools to determine what exactly is going on in your gut, and why you feel so bad so much of the time.

I have a long history of helping treat patients with IBS. Where medical doctors often struggle with these patients because they don’t have the right tools, naturopathic doctors excel here. When I treat patients with IBS, I am treating your whole person and not just your gut. I will look at diet, lifestyle, things that cause stress, and things that cause joy. All of these things will affect the IBS. Working with the gut is my passion!  I have spent many years studying how it works when functioning optimally, and how different things that go wrong can present different symptoms. My passion began with my own diagnosis of Crohn’s disease and continues to this day. It is my passion to help you restore healthy bowel function.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at the clinic:  (503) 701-8766, or schedule a consultation.

Be Well,

Ilana Gurevich, ND, LAc