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What is IBS?

Understanding your condition

IBS is a common condition affecting more women than men, and it can affect all areas of life, limiting work and social activities while causing embarrassment and discomfort.

IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a chronic functional digestive disorder which can include collection of recurrent symptoms, with the most common symptoms being diarrhoea, constipation (or both), bloating, and pain.

woman with ibs seated with hands pressed against bloated stomach
middle aged man sitting in lounge room at black piano smiling

Providing a holistic treatment for IBS

While IBS presents in the digestive tract, factors outside the digestive system also play a role in the triggering and persistence of symptoms. This is why our IBS experts conduct a thorough health assessment of each patient to understand the underlying causes and factors that might be contributing to their IBS. This truly personalised approach to treating IBS delivers a high rate of success with patients that we’re proud to offer.

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Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms

Wondering what irritable bowel syndrome is, or what the symptoms of IBS are? The diagnosis of IBS is given to those with 2 or more of the below symptoms persisting over 3 months or more:


  • Bloating, cramping
  • Diarrhoea, or loose stools
  • Urgency
  • Constipation, or dry, irregular bowel movement
  • Reflux
  • Fluctuating diarrhoea and constipation
  • Pain on defecation
  • Visceral pain/hypersensitivity to abdominal areas
  • Migraines or headaches can sometimes accompany other symptoms

Often when a patient is assessed for IBS, the GP will consider inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms differ from Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), which are characterised by chronic inflammation throughout the digestive tract, and are generally diagnosed by gastroscopy and/or biopsy. IBS is often diagnosed when other conditions such as IBD have been ruled out.

IBS is broken into 5 major subtypes;

  • IBS-C - characterised by constipation
  • IBS-D - characterised by diarrhoea
  • IBS-M - characterised by fluctuations of diarrhoea and constipation
  • IBS-U - refers to unspecified or undetermined - generally applied when symptoms don’t fit the other subtypes
  • Post-infectious IBS - which often occurs after an infection, or following antibiotic treatment

What causes eczema?

There isn’t one single cause of eczema but a range of potential contributing factors that are unique to each person. These include:

Genetics

Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.

These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.

Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected. 

Food allergy and sensitivity

Food hypersensitivity has been found to cause or exacerbate atopic dermatitis in 10-30% of cases, and 90% of these are caused by eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat.

Compromised gut health

The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.

Nutritional deficiencies

Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).

Weather and environment

Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.

Hormones

Hormones also play a role in the course of atopic dermatitis, including the stress hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory immune response affecting all organs of the body, including the skin.

Mould exposure

Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.

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Irritable bowel syndrome causes

More research will help illuminate all of the precise irritable bowel syndrome causes. Recently, however, research has identified that a disturbed microbial make-up, or dysbiosis of the microbiome, can be a feature of IBS. Chronic stress, anxiety or mood disorders are known to alter digestive function, which can disrupt the pH of the microbiome and alter species make-up and diversity. The resulting reduction of short-chain fatty acid producing bacteria such as Roseburia and Eubacterium rectale can have an impact on the inflammation of the colon, and contribute further to the severity of symptoms of IBS.

Alongside strong connections to stress and anxiety, other physiological causes include pathogenic parasites, alterations to brain-gut interactions, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), intestinal hyperpermeability and changes to bile acid secretions.

Food sensitivities or intolerances such as FODMAPs can cause or exacerbate symptoms, and in some cases intestinal hyperpermeability can create further intolerances to foods that were not previously known as triggers. This can create a confusing cycle of symptoms and a growing accumulation of intolerance to foods that were previously well tolerated.

Other contributing factors to IBS

Allergic reactions and poor clearance of histamine can trigger an immune response that can further exacerbate or trigger symptoms. In perimenopause and menopause, the reduction in the protective effects of oestrogen and progesterone can prevent effective clearance of histamine produced by mast cells in response to an allergen. This can in turn create more food and environmental allergies (pollen, dust, animal dander etc.) which can trigger or exacerbate IBS symptoms.  

SIBO or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is also commonly found with IBS, where some microbiota species such as Enterococcus, E. coli, and Klebsiella which are usually found in the large intestine, have migrated to occupy the small intestines. As a consequence, both IBS and SIBO can share a myriad of symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and distention and diarrhoea.

Other risk factors of IBS include:

  • A genetic predisposition
  • A suboptimal diet
  • Use of antibiotics
  • Stress or trauma
  • Anxiety or depression

IBS treatment - conventional treatments

Once diagnosed, the conventional approach to IBS involves dietary modifications such as the FODMAP diet, counselling to help reduce the effect of stress on the gut-brain connection, and pharmaceutical treatments for suppression of symptoms. Drug therapies can include antispasmodic, antidiarrhoeal or laxative treatments that may have undesirable side effects such as mineral deficiencies or, in severe cases rendering the colon incapable of peristalsis. More recently, IBS treatments including psychological therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) are becoming popular to improve stress-related IBS symptoms.

IBS symptoms can become worse over time if not treated effectively, and avoidance of some food/nutrient groups can lead to malnutrition if the person is not under the supervision of a nutrition expert. Haemorrhoids and anal fissures can also occur if IBS is left untreated.

Many people find their IBS symptoms don’t subside with these approaches, partly because the broader range of underlying factors aren’t widely understood in the conventional medicine space. Thankfully, IBS functional medicine natural treatment has been shown to have greater symptom management and higher quality of life outcomes for IBS patients.

IBS functional medicine testing considerations

Functional testing can provide us with insight into the causes or contributing factors of IBS, and along with a detailed case history, can deliver a more targeted, effective approach to solve your digestive concerns. Our functional medicine practitioners will analyse your test results to determine factors contributing to IBS.

Testing may include;

  • Digestive function and nutrient absorption
  • Testing for pathogenic parasites such as E. coli, Giardia, Salmonella, or Shigella
  • Food sensitivities
  • Microbiome health and diversity
  • Organic acid testing
  • Standard blood chemistry from your GP

IBS treatment - the functional medicine approach

Our IBS specialists will seek to establish the root cause, or causes, of your IBS, and focus treatment strategies on resolving these underlying issues.

Via thorough investigation, our experts will consider:

  • your personal health history
  • history of antibiotic use
  • your family health history & genetic predispositions
  • diagnostic test results (with a functional medicine view)
  • current and historical medications
  • other conditions
  • and, your symptom picture

We’ll walk you through our holistic understanding of your particular case, explaining the factors we’ve identified as contributing to your IBS using the most up-to-date scientific insights.

Your IBS functional medicine treatment may include a range of science-backed strategies depending on the factors influencing your condition to ensure your success. They may include:

  • Improving stress-resilience with strategies, such as mindfulness or meditation practices, or Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing)
  • Specific dietary or nutritional changes to eliminate aggravating foods i.e. low histamine or FODMAP diet, while adding in nourishing foods, specific to your case
  • Precision probiotics, specifically targeted to your symptom picture
  • Vitamins, amino acids and mineral supplements to ensure necessary cofactors for healing

One of our Melbourne IBS specialists, Mark Payne says “The gut is the seat of all health”, and helping to restore digestive function can provide relief for symptoms that may seem unrelated such as mood disorders, depression and anxiety, pain, skin conditions and more.

At Melbourne Functional Medicine, we pride ourselves on innovative delivery and clinical excellence, designed to empower and educate you to restore your health. In addition to working with a functional medicine practitioner, you’ll also have the ongoing support of a health coach. Your health coach will help you implement your personalised treatment plan, and provide you with the encouragement and support you need to be well again.

We’ve helped people just like you to be well, and symptom free. Have a look at our patient success stories here.

Case study

See how functional medicine is helping our patients achieve better health and richer lives.

Are you ready for a personalised, natural functional medicine treatment? Our unique model of care was designed with you in mind. Find out how here, then book a call today!

FAQs

What is the best diet for irritable bowel syndrome?

The best irritable bowel syndrome diet for those with IBS depends on a variety of factors. There are some common foods to avoid for those with IBS, such as FODMAPs and histamine foods, although it is best to get assessed by a functional medicine IBS specialist before attempting to create an irritable bowel syndrome diet.

Using a combination of functional testing, personalised assessment and IBS functional testing, our IBS specialists will seek to determine the root cause of your symptoms, and tailor-make a health plan to get you feeling well again.

Is irritable bowel syndrome hereditary - are you born with IBS?

More research is needed, however there are some indications that irritable bowel syndrome may have a genetic component that runs in some families.

How to calm irritable bowel syndrome?‍

Herbs such as peppermint can help reduce cramping and pain associated with IBS, and ginger can help to calm the digestive tract by reducing inflammation, and it can also reduce bloating. These herbs can be taken as teas, and can also be prescribed in targeted IBS formulas. As stress is a trigger for IBS flares, deep breathing and meditation can help calm the nervous system to then calm the digestive tract, alongside stress management techniques.

What is the best treatment for IBS?

People looking for specialised IBS treatment in Australia often don’t know where to start, and have tried conventional treatments without success. While some other treatments can be effective, the most advanced approach to treating IBS is to work with an IBS specialist or IBS naturopath who practices the functional medicine approach, which includes a personalised assessment and functional testing to determine the factors that contribute to IBS.

The natural treatment that follows is tailored to you, and may include which foods to avoid or include, stress management strategies, and targeted natural remedies to help the body heal.

Can stress cause irritable bowel syndrome?

Chronic stress, whether extreme or mild, can alter the pH of our gastrointestinal tract, which then determines the number, diversity and individual species that thrive there. This disruption can affect brain chemistry (as many of our neurotransmitters are made by our microbiota) contributing to how we manage stress, which can further disrupt the microbiome, leading to a vicious cycle.  

Stress, mood disorders, and anxiety that impact the species of the microbiome can also then contribute to inflammation, due to chemical messengers called cytokines, changing gut motility (how our waste is moved through the bowel) and contribute to bloating, reflux and increased sensations of pain in the abdomen called visceral hypersensitivity associated with IBS.

Is there an irritable bowel syndrome specialist near me?

Melbourne Functional Medicine has functional medicine trained IBS naturopaths in South Melbourne, serving all of Melbourne and Australia. Patients come to our clinic from all across Australia and abroad, or use our telehealth services from the convenience of their home or workplace.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Reach out to the team directly – we’ll be happy to assist.