IBS: A Serious Health Concern
by Brenda Watson

Although growing numbers of Americans and health care experts are now recognizing and treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it remains a serious challenge and concern. One major reason for this is that IBS involves dysfunction, but no anatomical abnormalities, making it very difficult to diagnose. This is because upon diagnostic testing, there is no evidence of disease such as ulcers of inflammation. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that if the doctors can't find anything else, a diagnosis of IBS is likely to be made.

The fact that the cause of IBS is officially "unknown" from the point of view of mainstream medicine, may be due largely to the fact that medical doctors seldom perform the specialized diagnostic procedures needed to rule out such conditions as parasites or Candida, which may be unsuspected causes of the disorder. These important conditions should not be overlooked and generally will not be by holistic practitioners. Other conditions that need to be ruled out where IBS symptoms are present are diverticular disease, infectious diarrhea, lactose intolerance, celiac disease and infection of the small intestine from bacterial overgrowth.

Between 25 and 55 million people in the US (10-20% of the population) suffer from IBS. Most who have the disorder don't seek medical care for it, and those who do are seldom hospitalized. IBS is second only to the common cold as the most frequent cause of absenteeism from work and school.

IBS is commonly characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel function such as constipation and/or diarrhea. Some people have occasional symptoms, and others have symptoms that are disabling. The colon of the IBS sufferer seems to be more sensitive and reactive to stimulation than that of most people. Intestinal spasms may result from ingestion of certain foods or medicines and from abdominal distention caused by gas, as well as from emotional stress. While these factors would not cause undue GI distress in the average person, for the IBS sufferer, they can be triggers of painful abdominal spasms.

Muscles in the bowel normally contract a few times a day, which results in a bowel movement. It's believed that in a person with IBS, these muscles are extremely sensitive to stimuli or triggers. While this would not normally affect most people, triggers such as food and stress can provoke a strong response in a person with IBS. While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, there does seem to be an underlying abnormality in the contractions of the bowel.

There is evidence that food sensitivities and allergies may play a major role causing IBS. Lack of fiber can also be a main contributor since sufficient fiber speeds the transit time of food. This means food is not sitting in your colon for long periods producing more toxins, which then may be absorbed into the bloodstream. When choosing a fiber supplement, it's important to distinguish between soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber, as the name implies, dissolves in water and at the same time, absorbs it. Soluble fiber appears to bind with toxins, cholesterol and fats in the digestive tract so that the cholesterol can't be absorbed. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve or absorb water. It's a rough fiber that sweeps clean the intestines as it passes through them. The ideal daily intake of 30-40 grams of fiber would consist of equal amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber. This balance occurs natural in flax-based fiber. A flax fiber, with its 50/50 balance of soluble/insoluble fiber, gives the user the benefits of toxin absorption and proper bulk in the colon without causing dehydration and the resultant constipation.

Other factors that appear to play a role in IBS include hormonal changes (women tend to have flare-ups around the time of their menstrual cycles), low fiber diets and infection. Many patients have reported the onset of symptoms during or soon after recovery from GI infection or abdominal surgery such as gallbladder removal. Medications, especially antibiotics, may contribute to IBS as well.

The management of IBS involves: ruling out underlying causes (such as Candida and parasites); changing your diet to one that will exclude irritating foods, such as alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, dairy products, sugar and those that are high in sulfur (garlic, onions, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts); increasing fiber intake with flax; replacing intestinal flora (with probiotics like acidophilus and bifidus); using supportive herbs to help soothe the digestive tract; using L-glutamine and N-aceytl-glucosamine, which supports the intestinal lining; including gamma oryzanol to soothe the colon; drinking plenty of water; trying colon hydrotherapy.

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