Do you feel like it’s impossible to know what’s happening in your gut? One day, you feel light as air – the next, you’re bloated and gassy. What gives?
Was it something you ate? A stomach bug? If only you could text your gut and ask what the problem is. Health technology hasn’t gotten us that far (yet), but the good news is that a health professional can guide you on your way.
There are so many digestive problems out there like SIBO, food sensitivities, and the topic of today’s blog: IBS. By visiting a health professional like Dr. Saira Kassam, ND, our Naturopathic Doctor, you can narrow things down and figure out exactly what you’re dealing with.
We sat down with Dr. Kassam, ND to learn more about IBS.
What is IBS?
IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome. “It’s very common, especially in younger people,” Dr. Kassam, ND shares. “And I think since the pandemic happened, it has become even more prevalent.”
There are three main categories of IBS:
- IBS-C, where you frequently experience constipation
- IBS-D, where you frequently experience diarrhea
- IBS-M, where you experience both on the same day
There are additional symptoms that may accompany these habits. Common examples include gas, abdominal cramping, and bloating. It’s normal to experience these things intermittently in life, but when they become constant for weeks or even months – it's time to get a second opinion.
Most of Dr. Kassam, ND’s patients who are dealing with IBS have visited a Medical Doctor first. Ruling out other diseases and assessing risk factors is the most important. IBS is usually a diagnosis of exclusion, so everything else must be ruled out first and their history must match the diagnosis of IBS.
As a Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Kassam helps patients diagnosed with IBS by coming up with a treatment plan. “IBS treatment depends on whether it’s constipation or diarrhea. If you have IBS-D (diarrhea), the gold standard is a FODMAP diet for 4 weeks.”
The term FODMAP is short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These are sugars that can often be difficult for the small intestine to digest (therefore causing unpleasant symptoms). A FODMAP diet is not a long-term solution; it’s used to identify foods that may be causing digestive distress.
“I’ll have someone try that for 2 weeks, and if they’re not better we can adjust the plan – if they are seeing improvements, we’ll go to 4 weeks,” she adds. After this time frame, you can slowly re-introduce the foods on the list and monitor if they cause symptoms. If you find a direct link, it’s best to avoid that food in the long term.
Dr. Kassam, ND says that a FODMAP diet is often very effective with her patients, but it’s only one option for treatment. “It’s also important to rule out other things that could be causing your symptoms like hypothyroidism or nutrient deficiencies,” she says.
For those dealing with constipation, adding more fibre and a probiotic are usually recommended. “And if that’s not working, we might go in with an antimicrobial because sometimes it’s bacteria that are causing constipation.”
She might also do a stool test if you’ve been suffering for a long time. Getting real, concrete data about any imbalances in your gut is extremely valuable.
Along with this, Dr. Kassam, ND has general recommendations that can be effective in treating symptoms. These include:
- Mindful eating. Are you fully chewing your food? Do you breathe before you eat? It’s so common to eat absentmindedly while watching TV or working on a project. Slowing down and focusing can really make a difference.
- Stress and anxiety relief. “These really kill your digestion by taking you out of the parasympathetic zone and putting you in sympathetic (or “fight or flight”) mode,” Dr. Kassam. Have you ever had digestive problems right before an anxiety-inducing social event? This is why.
- Eating more fibre. Did you know that most people aren’t getting enough fibre? Reach for more fruits, vegetables (bonus if you leave the skin on!), oats, lentils, chickpeas, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
By implementing these strategies and following an individualized treatment plan, Dr. Kassam, ND’s patients are typically able to experience long-lasting relief from their symptoms. It’s all about lifestyle changes, natural remedies if needed, and identifying any potential triggers so they can be eliminated.
IBS In the Media
There has been a noticeable uptick in people discussing IBS these days. As we mentioned, the recent pandemic is likely a big contributing factor – as is the fact that more people are experiencing stress, anxiety, and burnout.
It’s no surprise, then, that IBS has become a hot topic in health and wellness (it has about 337 million results on Google – that's a lot!).
This is why it’s important to be cautious of which products and solutions you subscribe to. A bottle of pills promising to get rid of your IBS in 2 weeks? Probably too good to be true. Products are also a one-size-fits-all, so-called “solution”. IBS is different from person to person – so everyone’s treatment will vary, as well. Instead, the safest and most effective route is to work with a healthcare professional who specializes in gut health.
IIf you’re fed up with persistent constipation, diarrhea, or both, you should consider visiting our Naturopathic Doctor. Dr. Kassam works at our clinic in Toronto to treat IBS and gut health issues in our patients.
She’ll spend time learning about your unique health history, symptoms, and lifestyle. Digestive symptoms can be discouraging, but working with an experienced professional can help!
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