Do I have IBS?

Do I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal problem, which leads to unusual sensitivity and muscle activity.

It is very common, afflicts mainly women and tends to develop ebfore the age of 35.

It is also often referred to as spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis or nervous stomach. However, IBS should not be mistaken for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBS is a functional problem, whereby the operation of the bowels may be abnormal, but no structural problems are present.

How the bowel works

It can be helpful to understand the role of the intestine (bowel), in better understanding IBS.

The intestine stretches from an opening in the stomach to the anus (rear end). It plays a major role in digestion, a process in which food is broken down and absorbed (together with water) into the bloodstream. The small intestine absorbs nutrients, whilst the large intestine assimilates moisture from the matter that is leftover and excretes the waste from the anus.

So, partly digested foodstuff normally leaves the stomach and passes into the small intestine and then into the large intestine. The large intestine helps food to flow through with light squeezing motions. However, with IBS, it is believed that the intestines squeeze too hard or not hard enough and cause food to move too quickly or too sluggishly through the gastrointestinal tract.

Types of IBS

As such, there are broadly two types of IBS:

1. In some instances, material inside the bowel doesn’t progress rapidly enough and an excess of fluid is absorbed, leading to constipation – this is called IBS-C.

2. In other cases, the material moves too quickly and the colon doesn’t take up enough liquid, which leads to diarrhoea – this is called IBS-D.  

Those that have problems with IBS seldom openly discuss it. However, studies suggest its likely prevalence in the United Kingdom to be around 17% of the population.

Unfortunately, doctors do not tend to understand why or how IBS comes about. Furthermore, quite a few doctors feel that the complaint doesn’t really exist and is psychosomatic in origin. Having said that, this opinion is now generally rejected by the natural health fraternity. Moreover, it is the most common condition diagnosed by gastroenterologists and one of the most common disorders seen by primary care physicians.

The specific cause, or causes, of IBS are uncertain, but the following factors are likely to contribute to the onset of this condition:

  • stress
  • depression
  • insufficient intake of dietary fibre
  • hypersensitivity to specific hormones
  • food allergies and sensitivities (e.g. to gluten)
  • problems with the way signals are sent between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract
  • poor diet (including diets high in sugar and/or fat)
  • micro-organisms in the gut (including bacteria and parasites)
  • yeasts
  • coeliac disease
  • and medications.

What is a syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not classified as a disease. The term “syndrome” may sound alarming, but it’s actually just a broad term used by doctors to describe a group of symptoms.

Although IBS certainly isn’t fatal, its symptoms can drastically impact on quality of life and may even be debilitating.

Certainly, symptoms and severity vary from one person to another (and might change over time). For some, IBS is a chronic (continuous) disorder that characterises daily living. For others, it is a periodic unwelcome visitor. Everybody suffers from an occasional bowel disturbance, but for anyone with IBS, the symptoms are more acute or arise more often.

Whether constant or intermittent, IBS is most often known to cause a mixture of any of the following symptoms: abdominal pain, acid reflux, wind, bloating, fullness, cramping pains, fatigue, severe headaches, passage of mucous, urgency or a a sense of unfinished bowel movements and a change in bowel habits (i.e. constipation and/or diarrhoea).

Clearly, a number of these symptoms are common in other conditions and are rather ambiguous. This explains the frequent difficulty in obtaining a certain diagnosis. More uncommon symptoms include a feeling of sickness and throwing up.

Living with IBS

Unfortunately, there isn’t any known cure for IBS, but it appears that its symptoms can be managed in many different ways. For instance, dietary and lifestyle changes and supporting health supplements. Many people find that high-strength, multi-strain probiotics help with symptoms, along with plant-derived digestive enzymes and high quality dietary fibre.

In contrast, having fatty, processed foods can lead to a tummy upset in virtually anybody. Nonetheless, particular foods and drinks (like greasy burgers, sugar, chocolate, milk products, caffeine and alcohol) are believed to especially aggravate the symptoms of IBS, by (amongst other things) increasing the body’s output of digestive gases and creating an acidic environment.
 
Tension is also believed to increase the motility (the rhythmic contractions) of the intestine that propels food through the gastrointestinal tract and causes abdominal pain and irregular bowel functions.

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How antibiotics affect the gut

Good health begins in the gut

Many health experts agree that good health begins with balance in the body, particularly in the digestive system.

Inside our bodies there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells, and maintaining the correct balance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria is a crucial part of avoiding illness and supporting long-term health and vitality.

Having the right kind of bacteria (so-called “friendly bacteria”), in sufficient quantities, is essential for everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity and defence against infections.

What can disrupt the balance of gut flora?

The delicate balance of healthy bowel flora can be disrupted by a number of things, including excess intake of alcohol, a diet high in sugar, poor digestion, stress, as well as exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants. For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of bowel flora imbalance – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.

How do antibiotics affect the gut?

It is now generally accepted that antibiotics have historically been prescribed and used far more than they should be. While this is in the process of slowly changing, the result has sadly been an upsurge in antibiotic resistance – a type of drug resistance where a microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic.

What’s more, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their adverse impact on the digestive system and the balance of gut flora – they indiscriminately destroy both good and bad bacteria in the body. They work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – obviously good in terms of bad bacteria, but bad in terms of friendly bacteria.

This is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people are taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, but their medicine is destroying one of the body’s primary lines of natural defence. In fact, what is arguably the most important part of the immune system resides in the gut – Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) work hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria and viruses) from entering the body.  

Of course, antibiotics have their role to play and can certainly be highly effective in resolving bacterial infections. However, it is important to use them sensibly, in moderation and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after a course.

Too many bad bugs

If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread.

An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis), for example, increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including:

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pains after eating
  • wind
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Leaky Gut Syndrome
  • and Candida overgrowth.

This is one of the reasons why antibiotic courses often result in thrush (a fungal infection caused by Candida overgrowth).

How to support the good guys

Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive tract by antibiotics can last far longer than was previously thought.

Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in three healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects’ friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater.

As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor ailments and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is unavoidable, you can support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements.

For instance, many cultures have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) and so include them as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh to name just a few. Including these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a good way to promote healthy intestinal flora.

However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through.

Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that can colonise the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.

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Why do I have bad breath?

What is bad breath?

Bad breath can come in many forms, levels of severity and can even be triggered by many a wide range of factors.

Simply speaking, it is an unpleasant odour eminating from the breath of a person. Chronic bad breath is referred to as halitosis. Less commonly, it is also called fetor oris, ozostomia or stomatodysodia.

What causes bad breath?

Often identifying the cause of bad breath is the first step towards treating this entirely preventable condition. As mentioned above, it can be caused by a wide variety of things. For example, smoking, dry mouth, a medical condition (such as diabetes) or diet (for example, a diet high in protein or other acid-forming foods, eating garlic and onions or drinking too much coffee or alcohol).

The most common causes of bad breath are preventable and easily treated. However, in some cases, chronic halitosis may indicate an underlying problem in the stomach or digestive system. It is this potential cause that will be considered below.

The digestive system

The digestive tract extends all the way from the mouth right through to the anus. It therefore makes sense that any problems in the digestive tract (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, for example – see below), can result in bad breath. As such, it is possible for anyone to suffer from halitosis (including both vegetarians and those who eat meat).

Stomach, intestinal and bowel problems may all be a contributing factor to bad breath. Digestion begins in the mouth. Saliva has digestive enzymes which begin the digestion process, and the type of food eaten can affect the food chemistry of the mouth. Saliva will also pick up odours from food within several hours after it has been eaten. Odours are strongest from carbohydrates (sugars, starches and cellulose), less strong from proteins and non-existent from fats. Bacteria in the mouth react with the decaying food and drink residue and can be the source of foul odour.

Digestive enzymes and nutrition

Digestive enzymes become more important as we get older, because their production by the body decreases as we age. A high level of the naturally-occurring digestive enzymes in foods is also destroyed when they are cooked.

If our bodies are enzyme deficient, they must divert nutrients to manufacture those digestive enzymes, which would otherwise be used to make intracellular enzymes such as catylase and SOD, which protect cells as antioxidants. Lower levels of digestive enzymes can also potentially lead to excess gas formation and putrefaction in the intestines. For some, this can contribute to bad breath gases travelling through the bloodstream and to the lungs, where they are exhaled.

Dairy allergy, lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity

A dairy allergy or lactose intolerance could also be the cause of bad breath. If you think that this could be the case, you could try eliminating all dairy products from the diet temporarily to see if they are the culprit.

Even if you do not suffer from a dairy allergy or intolerance, some people find that the elimination of dairy products can nonetheless help with the control of bad breath odours. This is because dairy products can thicken mucous in the mouth and contribute to the anaerobic environment bacteria thrive in, leading to the production of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). It also supplies lots of protein used in the breakdown by bacteria to form VSCs.

For those individuals who are intolerant to gluten (a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related cereals) and are also suffering from halitosis, it is important to ensure that you are drinking a great deal of water to wash away thick mucous and bacteria and to keep the mouth flowing freely with saliva. This decreases mouth pH and increases oxygen, both of which help control halitosis.

Candida albicans

Candida is an overgrowth of yeast (referred to as candidiasis), which usually starts in the gastrointestinal tract and then gradually spreads to other parts of the body. It is a resilient and invasive parasite, which usually attaches itself to the intestinal wall and can (if left untreated) become a permanent resident of the internal organs. One of the known symptoms of candida is bad breath. This is because an abnormally high level of fungal organisms in the intestines may result in increased fermentation of the carbohydrates you eat. This produces a variety of toxins and gases.  

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, which results in unusual sensitivity and muscle activity. It is sometimes referred to as spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis or nervous stomach and is a functional disorder, where the function of the bowels may be abnormal, but no structural abnormalities exist.

It is widely accepted amongst naturopathic practitioners and other complimentary and alternative health therapists that bad breath can be a sign of long-term problems in the colon. They believe the health of the gastrointestinal system is integral to overall well-being, and support for IBS (and bad breath symptoms) often involves seeking to restore gut health (including a healthy balance of bacteria).

Dysbiosis

In adults, bad breath is often one of the first signs that normal bacteria levels in the gut are imbalanced. Dysbiosis (also sometimes called dysbacteriosis) refers to a microbial imbalance on or within the body; in other words, an imbalance of “good” versus “bad” bacteria. When levels of friendly bacteria in the digestive system are low, partially digested food decays, producing foul gas and toxemia.

Certain health foods, organic products and food-based supplements (such as herbal colon cleansers, high-strength multi-strain probiotics, digestive aids and cleanse and detox supplements) can offer support in resolving bad breath, particularly where this is linked to digestive health.

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