April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome month and if you suffer from IBS, you know how it can impact your life. Helping clients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome is an important focus in my practice – so in this post, I want to start with the basics on what IBS is and what it isn’t. Over the coming months, I will share more on nutritional approaches to IBS and mind-body techniques that I have found helpful.

1. Diagnosing IBS

The standard diagnostic tool for Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the Rome III criteria, which are as follows, verbatim:

“Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort** at least 3 days/month in the last 3 months associated with two or more of the following:
– Improvement with defecation
– Onset associated with a change in frequency of stool
– Onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool

  • Criterion fulfilled for the last 3 months with symptom onset at least 3 months prior to diagnosis
    ** “Discomfort” means an uncomfortable sensation not described as pain.
    In pathophysiology research and clinical trials, a pain/discomfort frequency of at least 2 days a week during screening evaluation is recommended for subject eligibility.

2. Translation

Getting a diagnosis of IBS means a physician is simply describing what is happening to you – there is nothing visibly different about the IBS gut but it sure is behaving differently! Before doling out your IBS badge, your physician should have ruled out all other potential causes of GI distress, including Celiac Disease or Crohn’s Disease. If they didn’t, go back and press the issue.

Researchers are not certain why IBS occurs but we do know that Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS in the world: as many as 5 million Canadians suffer from IBS, according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation. When I hear stats like that, I immediately suspect our collectively crappy lifestyle is at least partly to blame.

We know that the nervous system in the IBS gut is hyper-reactive – that pain is not all in your head. A normal amount of gas production in the IBS gut could feel like the world is ending; something is also happening with how your gut regulates the passage of digesta. It could be too quick or too slow and usually very uncontrollable. The foods you eat, the thoughts you think and the balance of bacteria in your gut all contribute to your symptoms.

3. Getting Complicated

It is completely normal from time to time to have excessive gas, a bit of loose stool or bloating – that is not IBS. Eat some really gassy food – like a huge plate of cauliflower? That gas is normal and healthy. Had a gorgeous plate of greens? They can loosen up the stool quite a bit. Not getting enough fibre? That can stop you up pretty effectively. Working with a qualified health professional will help you determine whether it is mere digestive annoyance that can be easily solved or truly IBS. Once you have worked with your physician on a diagnosis, the journey to self-care begins.

If you have IBS and need some nutritional guidance, contact me for more information about my one-on-one consultations.