Ever had a "Bridesmaid moment"? One of my patients the other day told me about hers. The thing is, she eats exceptionally healthy, exercises, meditates daily and has one of the sunniest outlooks on life I've ever seen. She did not have food poisoning. But her digestive system was a mess.
In fact, she had been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and her doctor also suspected
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is estimated to affect between 10-15% of Canadians (1). I would tend to say that these numbers are extremely conservative because many people with digestive disorders may not seek care from their medical doctors, or it may take several years to receive a diagnosis. In fact, the vast majority of my clients have one or more digestive concerns.
If you have one digestive issue you are likely to have another. They are not unrelated. This is not a fluke. And you're not going to fix it unless you treat the whole system, or more practically, treat you as a person rather than a collection of mouths, stomachs, guts and colons.
The most common digestive issues that I see and treat are:
Treatment for these concerns may not be particularly helpful and can often cause additional concerns. For example, Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) are commonly prescribed to treat heartburn. Side effects of Nexium (Esomeprazole) a common PPI, include constipation, watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, stomach pain, and nausea (2). Other PPIs may decrease absorption of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin B12, increase risk of Community Acquired Pneumonia, C. difficile infection, Traveler's Diarrhea, and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (3).
Moreover, these medications work by decreasing acid production within the stomach. While this may alleviate heartburn (read my thoughts on this here), this is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The thing is, we need lots of stomach acid. The stomach's job is to burn off parasites, molds, bacteria and viruses to help protect our body from infections. Without a strong acid barrier, our body is not going to be able to protect against these nasty things. In particular, heartburn is associated with Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth (SIBO) - a condition of inappropriate types of bacteria hanging out in the small intestine where they shouldn't be. This is relevant because SIBO is conservatively estimated to be the direct cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in 40-85% of cases.
That's right, IBS is not idiopathic or in your head. To add more fuel to the fire, a 2009 study showed that people with GERD were 3.5 x more likely to develop IBS and that people with IBS were 2.8x more likely to develop GERD (4).
So, what can we do about it?
Treat the Cause.
Here are the big priorities.
If you find this article helpful or surprising and would like to learn more, I would love to invite you to book a complimentary Health Discovery Session with me to discuss your options.
In happy digestive health,
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Dr. Keila Roesner is a Naturopathic Doctor. When not treating patients she is also an enthusiastic barefoot-strolling, music-loving, yoga-doing kitchen wiz - who also happens to be a wrestling fan.