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5 Root Causes of IBS + Foods to Eat & Avoid

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Tired of IBS? Discover the root causes, foods to eat and avoid, and find lasting relief with functional medicine.

Root Causes of IBS + Foods to Eat & Avoid

Reading Time: 10 minutes

If you have IBS (or know someone who does), you know exactly how debilitating it can be. This chronic condition affects the digestive systems of 10-15% of Americans. And, most live with it unknowingly. Given the prevalence of this gastrointestinal condition, it’s important to know what the root causes of IBS are, so that healing can be achieved for the long-term. Have you been affected by IBS?

WHAT IS IBS?

IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a chronic gastrointestinal disease that ranks as one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions. Targeting the large intestine, or colon, IBS presents a complex challenge due to the unpredictable nature of the condition. The conditions can feel overwhelming for both the body and the mind. The diverse and fluctuating aspects of IBS can impact quality of life, disrupting daily activities, straining relationships, and causing emotional distress. Effective IBS management involves a comprehensive approach. This starts with consulting a functional health practitioner to receive proper guidance in including understanding the root causes, implementing lifestyle modifications to heal your body from the inside out to experience hope and freedom. 

COMMON SYMPTOMS OF IBS
  • IBS is often diagnosed through symptom analysis. The most common symptoms of IBS include:
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea 
  • Bloating 
  • Distention
  • Abdominal pain
  • Food intolerances
  • Fatigue 
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Brain fog
symptoms of ibs

In many cases, more than one of these chronic symptoms is present. If you struggle with chronic symptoms on a regular or cyclical basis, you might be experiencing IBS. It’s important to work with a health professional, who can help you confirm a diagnosis and determine the best plan of action moving forward. My program, the Microbiome Makeover, helps clients address the root causes of their IBS, in order to experience full healing!

WHAT IS THE BRAIN-GUT AXIS

As you can probably guess, IBS isn’t just about what’s going on in your belly. There’s a real connection between your brain and your gut, and it’s called the brain-gut axis. Picture this: your gut and your brain have a line of communication that remains open all the time, like an ongoing conversation.

Here’s how it works: when your gut is inflamed or irritated, it can send signals to your brain that trigger feelings of anxiety, depression, and even that annoying brain fog. It’s a two-way street where stress and emotions also mess with your gut. Conversely, when you’re stressed out, it can upset your stomach, and when your stomach’s acting up, it can affect your mood—it can be a vicious cycle.

Understanding this brain-gut connection is crucial for managing IBS. Stress management and strategies to support your mental health are just as important as dietary changes when it comes to finding relief. If you’ve ever wondered why your mood and your gut seem to go hand in hand, you can now trace it to the brain-gut axis – they’re in constant communication, for better or for worse.

I explain more about the connection between the gut and the brain (also known as “leaky brain”) here. 

5 ROOT CAUSES OF IBS 

Understanding the root causes of IBS is the first place to start when seeking healing. There are various factors that contribute to IBS symptoms, but these are the most common:

causes of ibs and tips for symptom relief
SIBO

SIBO, which stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, is a condition that frequently intersects with IBS, making it a noteworthy concern for many individuals. It’s fascinating to note that approximately 80% of individuals diagnosed with IBS also find themselves contending with SIBO. 

What exactly is SIBO? It’s a situation where your gut experiences an overgrowth of abnormal bacteria within the small intestine. These bacteria are particularly skilled at fermenting carbohydrates, transforming them into gas. Additionally, certain microorganisms, known as archaea, can be present in SIBO cases, producing methane gas as a byproduct. Consequently, increased gassiness and bloating are frequently experienced by those grappling with SIBO.

In my practice I find SIBO is typically a result of a gut infection that hasn’t been detected such as H.Pylori or a parasite. This is one of the reasons why I always suggest running a GI map to see exactly what is going on. 

Dysbiosis

Dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, represents a pivotal factor in understanding gastrointestinal health. When dysbiosis takes root, it signifies that the delicate balance between beneficial and pathogenic (harmful) bacteria in the gut has been disrupted. 

In this scenario, harmful bacteria often gain the upper hand, outcompeting their beneficial counterparts. This imbalance frequently arises due to a deficiency in the diversity of gut bacteria, which can be influenced by various factors such as dietary choices, antibiotic usage, or even lifestyle factors like stress.

The consequences of dysbiosis extend beyond mere bacterial numbers; they encompass a broad spectrum of gut dysfunctions. Such dysfunctions may manifest as irregular bowel movements, discomfort, bloating, and food sensitivities. 

Here’s a checklist that will help you determine if dysbiosis might be a factor contributing to IBS. 

  • Leaky Gut (Intestinal Permeability)

Leaky Gut, also known as Intestinal Permeability, occurs when there are disruptions, typically in the form of gaps or loose junctions, along the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Think of your gut lining as a protective barrier – it’s supposed to keep everything in your gut contained and prevent anything harmful from entering your bloodstream. However, when these gaps develop in the gut lining is when trouble arises.

These gaps that are often referred to as “leaky gut,” open the door for pathogens like bacteria and viruses, harmful toxins, and undigested food particles to pass through. As these intruders slip into your bloodstream, your body’s immune system becomes activated in response to this influx of foreign substances. This immune response leads to increased inflammation throughout your body, as your immune cells work diligently to combat these pathogens, causing a great deal of stress to the body.

  • Gut Infections

Underlying infections in the gut can go unnoticed or undiagnosed for quite some time, as functional testing is the best way to identify them. However, they can cause a range of gastrointestinal symptoms, like bloating and distress. These infections can be bacterial, fungal, or parasitic. 

Bacterial examples include:  

  • H. pylori – (Helicobacter pylori) is a type of bacteria that can take up residence in the stomach lining, potentially leading to gastritis or peptic ulcers. It often goes undetected and can cause symptoms like abdominal pain and discomfort.
  • C. diff – short for Clostridium difficile, is a type of harmful bacteria that can grow in your colon, especially after you’ve taken antibiotics that upset the balance of good bacteria in your gut. When C. diff infections happen, they can give you really bad diarrhea and stomach pain. 

Fungal examples include: 

  • Candida – Candida is a type of yeast that can overgrow in the gut, leading to a condition known as candidiasis. Symptoms may include gastrointestinal discomfort, oral thrush, and fungal infections in various parts of the body.

Parasitic examples include: 

  • Blastocystis hominis – Blastocystis hominis is a microscopic parasite that can inhabit the intestines. While it doesn’t always cause symptoms, in some cases, it can lead to gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and bloating.
  • Entamoeba histolytica – Entamoeba histolytica is a tiny parasitic amoeba that can invade your colon and lead to a condition called amebiasis. If you have amebiasis, you might experience things like diarrhea, stomach aches, and sometimes serious situations, even liver abscesses.
Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities increase inflammation in the gut and can cause discomfort after eating. Symptoms of food sensitivities can arise anywhere from minutes to days after consumption. Common food sensitivities include gluten, dairy, and soy. The best way to identify these specifically for YOUR body is through the MRT test.

As a functional medicine practitioner, this is one food sensitivity test that is above all the rest. It’s the only one that I trust for accurate results.

The Mediator Release Test (MRT) is the gold standard for properly identifying food sensitivities. 

The MRT test measures inflammatory markers within the body. Unlike most food sensitivity testing methods, the MRT “is a functional measurement of diet-induced sensitivity pathways. MRT simplifies a highly complex reaction and translates that into the most usable clinical information you can get – quantifying the inflammatory response to foods and food.”  

The Mediator Release Test is the only test offering 94% accuracy. Its ribbon technology accurately measures the mediator release in the blood. It identifies changes in the ratio of liquids to solids in your blood after exposure and incubates with the test substance to identify all reactions by your immune cells. This response will show that your immune cells release chemical mediators such as histamines, cytokines, or prostaglandins. It breaks down the positive reactions into reactive or moderately reactive categories. It also categorizes the no/low-reactive foods.. These results help us implement your phase 1 diet and will continue to serve as a home base for your phase 2 and phase 3 diet throughout your program and gut healing journey. 

The MRT test identifies 170 food and chemical reactions that lead to Type 3 and 4 hyper-sensitivity pathway reactions. This can help you understand even the most mysterious food sensitivity related problems. This is why the LEAP MRT test has helped thousands of patients turn years of suffering with symptoms into an energetic, happy, healthy future that is free of the symptoms that once seemed part of a normal life! This is the most effective and trusted food sensitivity test on the market, which is why I include it for every single client inside my Microbiome Makeover program! 

ibs root causes
TRIGGER FOODS TO AVOID + HEALTHIER FOODS TO EAT

Sometimes the hardest part about dealing with IBS is feeling constant restraint. You can’t do this, you can’t eat this, you can’t be around these things, you can’t ever eat out – the list goes on. It can feel like a hopeless cycle. However, while knowing the triggers is so important, it’s just as important to know that there are replacements for those foods that can ENHANCE your life, not just limit it. The road to healing can be a delicious one that can OPEN opportunities, instead of always limiting them. 

Here are some trigger foods for IBS, and alternatives to work into your diet to give you the options you are seeking! 

ibs foods to eat and avoid
High-FODMAP Foods

These include certain fruits (e.g., apples, pears), vegetables (e.g., onions, garlic), and grains (e.g., wheat, rye). They can cause gas and bloating due to their fermentable properties.

  • Alternative: Instead of avoiding these foods entirely, you can work with a registered dietitian, such as myself, to help you implement a low-FODMAP diet and gradually reintroduce specific items after identifying your personal triggers. 
Dairy Products

Dairy contains lactose, which can be difficult to digest for some people, leading to symptoms like gas, diarrhea, and bloating, particularly in individuals with lactose intolerance.

  • Alternative: Experiment with lactose-free or dairy alternatives like almond, soy, or lactose-free milk. A2 milk is also an amazing alternative for those with high dairy sensitivities.
Fried/Fatty Foods

Greasy and high-fat foods can slow down digestion and lead to symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea, as they are more challenging for the gut to process.

  • Alternative: Opt for healthier cooking methods like grilling, baking, or steaming. Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish (e.g., salmon) and plant-based fats (e.g., avocados, olive oil) into your diet.
Spicy Foods

Spices and hot peppers can be irritating to the gut lining and trigger symptoms such as abdominal discomfort and diarrhea.

  • Alternative: Try to use milder spices or herbs in your cooking, such as ginger or fennel, which are also known for their soothing effects on the digestive system.
Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar substitutes like sorbitol and mannitol found in sugar-free gum and candies can have a laxative effect, often leading to diarrhea.

  • Alternative: Choose natural sweeteners like manuka honey or organic maple syrup in moderation. 
Caffeinated Beverages

Coffee and caffeinated drinks can stimulate the gut, leading to increased bowel movements, which may exacerbate diarrhea and abdominal discomfort.

  • Alternative:  Switch to caffeine-free herbal teas like peppermint, green, or ginger tea, which can help calm the digestive system, and in some cases, give you the energy boost you’re looking for. See my TEA BLOG for the full scoop on which tea to look for! You can even check out my latest recommendation on ORGANIC COFFEE that is easy on the gut! 
Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, cramps, and acid reflux.

  • Alternative: Try adding some fruit in seltzer water for something refreshing and fizzy, or even organic kombucha for a gut healthy drink!
Carbonated Drinks

Soda and carbonated beverages can introduce excess gas into the digestive system, causing bloating and discomfort.

  • Alternative: Replace carbonated beverages with purified water, herbal tea, or ginger-infused water to prevent excessive gas.
Processed Foods

Highly processed foods often contain additives, preservatives, and high levels of salt, which can trigger inflammation and exacerbate IBS symptoms.

  • Alternative: Focus on implementing whole, unprocessed foods in your diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. These foods are easier on the digestive system.
Gluten

Some individuals with IBS, particularly those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, may experience digestive discomfort when consuming gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley, and rye.

  • Alternative: Explore gluten-free alternatives such as rice, quinoa, and gluten-free oats. Many gluten-free options are now widely available in grocery stores as well!

Managing IBS through dietary choices is essential for aiding in restoring health to your gut. By avoiding trigger foods and making healthier alternatives a part of your daily routine, you can significantly improve your comfort and overall well-being. Keep in mind that individual responses may vary. Working with a functional health practitioner like myself can help you tailor a personalized dietary plan that suits your specific needs and preferences.

TREATMENT FOR IBS

The conventional approach to healing IBS is very different than that of functional medicine. Conventional medicine focuses on symptom management. This often includes prescribing medicine and avoiding trigger foods– both of which suppress symptoms, instead of addressing the cause. On the other hand, functional medicine prioritizes digging deeper to identify and understand what is causing the IBS symptoms at the root. By taking a root cause approach, functional medicine can stop IBS in its track, heal the cause, and provide long-term relief. 

natural treatment for ibs

There are many lifestyle and dietary modifications that can help heal the root cause of IBS, including:

  • Managing stress 
  • Eliminating food sensitivities
  • Prioritizing sleep
  • Staying hydrated
  • Performing functional lab tests

While an IBS diagnosis can feel daunting or like a life sentence, it is possible to heal from your symptoms. Don’t settle for an IBS diagnosis! In order to understand and address the root cause of your IBS, apply for my program, The Microbiome Makeover. This program was designed to help women heal from chronic digestive issues, like IBS. Learn more here!

WRAPPING IT ALL UP

In your journey to manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome, remember that healing is very possible for YOU. IBS can be overwhelming, with its unpredictable symptoms affecting both body and mind. However, by addressing the root causes, instead of just constantly treating repetitive symptoms, you can take significant steps towards relief and true healing. 

With intentional dietary adjustments, a focus on stress management, and even personalized solutions such as The Microbiome Makeover program you will see freedom that you maybe never thought was possible. We use the GI map Stool Test and determine exactly what is going on in the gut. This test reveals imbalances in the microbiome, infections, parasites, and more. This is the only sure way to formulate a targeted and customized approach to approach your healing, instead of simply masking the symptom of constipation with temporary relief. I assure you that with determination and the right guidance, you can regain control of your well-being and move towards a healthier, happier life, free from the constraints of IBS.

Root Causes of IBS + Foods to Eat & Avoid
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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

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