Irritable Bowel Syndrome – No Single Cause

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is something that affects 15-20% of the population and is something the doctor might be quick to diagnose when patients present with a variety of symptoms, such as abdominal pain or a disordered bowel habit that generally can’t be explained. For many, trips to the doctor, colonoscopies, medications and dietary modifications do little to assist with the symptoms of IBS. So what are the potential causes of IBS and is there anything that can be done and from a functional standpoint?

Individuals like a condition to be named therefore the umbrella term IBS is generally given to them but there is no single cause for IBS as each person is different. Nutritional Therapist’s work with an individual’s uniqueness to establish what might be the cause for their IBS.

Associated symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, spasms, bloating, gas and abnormal bowel movements such as alternating diarrhoea and constipation, mucous in stools & more.

Possible Causes

  • Food intolerance: Two thirds of IBS patients have shown to have at least one food intolerance and some have multiple intolerance’s. The most common intolerance’s include wheat, dairy, corn, coffee, tea, citrus & chocolate. Avoidance of these can help to reduce some of the symptoms.
  • Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth: This occurs when the bacteria in the large intestine travel to the small intestine. Normally these bacteria in the large intestine break down fibre, which is absorbed by microbes rendering it, safe. However in the small intestine, there is nothing to absorb it so discomfort may occur.
  • Low Stomach Acid: Found in the stomach and is what is used to begin the digestion of protein, stomach acid essentially acts as the pawns on a chessboard by offering frontline protection against things like food poisoning, parasites and other infections as well as helping to absorb minerals such as magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. Stomach acid may decrease with age and also in times of stress. Additionally many of us are on drugs to block stomach acid production, therefore it can leave us open to a range of infections. Some symptoms of low stomach acid are: Bloating- especially following a meal, belching, flatulence, indigestion, food allergies, chronic infections, weak or peeling nails, constipation or/and diarrhoea and more.
  • Parasites: Some of these little creatures can be helpful for us but in general they cause harm and we want to be rid of them from the body. Symptoms are IBS-like but also may include unexplained weight-loss, fatigue, joint or muscle aches and symptoms may come an go depending on the life-cycle of the particular parasite.
  • Medications: Use of medication such as antacids, antibiotics and antidepressants may lead to a disturbance in the balance of stomach bacteria, allowing numbers of bad bacteria to increase over good bacteria.

These are just some possible causes. There are many other causes of IBS. It is important to work with a Nutritional Therapist in order to be supported fully. They may recommend a Stool Analysis to help find the root cause of the symptoms.


 Nutritional Recommendations

  • Fibre: Fibre such as fruit and vegetables, rye, quinoa, oats, barley, brown rice and buckwheat can assist the digestive tract to move things along the intestinal lining and eliminate effectively. Soluble fibre such in dark green leafy vegetables, oats and flaxseed help to reduce LDL cholesterol, balance blood sugar and also  help bowel function.
  • Oily Fish: Such as mackerel and salmon are sources of Omega 3, acting as an anti-inflammatory action on the body, particularly the intestines.
  • Probiotics: Increasing fermented foods such as live yoghurt, Kefir, Miso and Sauerkraut can help to increase numbers of the good bacteria. It can also be beneficial to supplement with a daily probiotic supplement that contains strains Lactobacilli & Bifidobacteria. A particular favourite is ‘Optibac Daily Wellbeing Extra Strength’, which contains 20 billion live organisms.
  • Prebiotics: These act as foods for the probiotics and therefore encourage them to grow and multiply. Foods such as oats, onions, leeks, barley, garlic and sweet potatoes are rich in these.
  • Avoid foods that you know aggravate your symptoms.
  • Avoid foods that contain sugar and that are processed as they may aggravate the colon, increase levels of bad bacteria as well as raise the amount of sugar in your blood.
  • Chew your food: The more your mouth does, the less your digestion has to do. Chew until your food is almost a liquid in your mouth.

It is important for you to book an appointment with your GP to discuss your symptoms. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my Twitter @nkdnutrition or Facebook (




Biocare: The Science of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Lipski E (2012) Digestive Wellness


Images: My Salon, Body and Beauty Healthcare Tips, Yoghurt Starter




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