Now that science has proven how important our gut-brain connection is, let’s talk about irritable bowel syndrome.
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS as most know it, is a common condition affecting one in five Australians. IBS can cause very distressing symptoms such as abdominal pain, alternating diarrhoea and constipation, bloating, nausea and mucus in the stools. It is important that if you have these symptoms you see your health professional to exclude other bowel diseases. We know that in the long-term management of IBS, although the symptoms are distressing they don’t cause the development of more serious conditions such as cancer or colitis.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown but factors such as stress, diet, change in routine and infection can trigger an attack. Research has shown that inflammation and the happy neurotransmitter serotonin may be related by causing changes, increasing the pain sensation and bowel function.
As a practising holistic doctor, I have found that improving the function and environment of the gut and helping to reduce inflammation can help with controlling IBS symptoms. The bowel has many functions but the main one is to digest food and absorb the correct nutrients. In order to keep the gut healthy, the immune system lining the gut wall needs to be functioning well to prevent any bad bugs or unwanted things we’ve eaten from being able to invade our body. It is constantly on high alert to protect us. This high-alert state can also be triggered by emotions, food we are unable to digest well or are intolerant to or bad organisms like bacteria and parasites.
We know that relaxation techniques, healthy probiotics (beneficial bacteria), certain nutrients and herbs can have an anti-inflammatory and calming effect on the bowel and assist in our ability to digest food more efficiently.
Glutamine is the main amino acid food source for the cells that line our gut (enterocytes) and I have had many patients receive benefits from taking this. A hardy source of healthy bacteria is also greatly beneficial to the environment of the gut and I find some of the best effects from fermented foods such as fermented papaya that provide not only healthy bacteria but also the digestive enzymes naturally occurring in the papaya fruit. Turmeric is also becoming a very popular and well-researched herb revealing great potential for its anti-inflammatory properties within the gut.
Together, probiotics, gut anti-inflammatory herbs and nutrients as well as a good stress management program can greatly assist in reducing the symptoms of IBS.
Words // Dr Elen ApThomas