How stress, poor sleep, and too much sugar is messing with your bowel movements!
Bowel movements, defecation, going poo… the #1 most important process of the human body, and not the #2! If you’re one of the 14-20% of the world population with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), that’s approximately one BILLION people1. And it is hypothesized that those who have gotten the diagnosis are only the tip of the iceberg, meaning that there are so many more people that have it but haven’t been diagnosed yet. You know all too well how it can negatively affect your life. Here are the first 3 things you need to do to take control of what is happening to your body. It has to do with 3 “s” words, and shit isn’t one of them. Stools, stress and sleep.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome – What is it?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic, long term, recurring functional condition, meaning that when you are tested via labs or colonoscopy, everything looks normal. There seems to be no reason for your symptoms, nevertheless you have them and they are debilitating.
The Frustration of an Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diagnosis
This is extremely frustrating to hear from your doctor, especially after you have been suffering with these symptoms that have had a detrimental impact on all aspects of your life. From limiting your social life for fear of an adverse bowel movement, to affecting your work life by causing you to spend too much time in the bathroom or taking more sick days than the norm. Not to mention huge psychological impact on your well being, living with this ever growing problem.
Risk Factors for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The most noted risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome are being a women, of young age, and having a preceding gut infection of some sort2. The risk is actually four times higher for those who have had an infectious gut condition3.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The most common symptoms of IBS include a combination of recurring:
- Abdominal pain
- Distension, bloating and gas
- Abnormal bowel movements – diarrhea and/or constipation
The Categories of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
It is classified in three categories – constipation, diarrhea or an alternation between both.
- IBS-C: Predominantly constipation
- IBS-D: Predominantly diarrhea
- IBS-M: Mixed, alternating between constipation and diarrhea
- IBS-U: Unclassified
The classification is based upon the Bristol Stool Scale (see below), designating the form of bowel movements.
My Experience As a Naturopathic Doctor with IBS-M
I have suffered with mixed type irritable bowel syndrome for the greater part of my life. In my youth I was constipated, mostly due to food choices and a home life that was incredibly stressful. The child of immigrants, with very little family or social support, we were poor and trying to succeed in a new world, which added an unbelievable burden to a family. After an episode of food poisoning in my early 20’s I began to experience alternating constipation and diarrhea, in effect the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome mixed (IBS-M). I didn’t get the diagnosis until about a decade later and suffered in silence.
You Think your Bowel Movements are Normal, But They’re Not
I didn’t go to the doctor, mostly because I thought my bowel movements were normal. Both of my parents had chronic bowel problems but were never diagnosed. Looking back now, the signs were very clear. My father had IBS-D, predominantly diarrhea and my mother IBS-C, predominantly constipation.
Dr. Google Can’t Tell You Everything About Irritable Bowel Syndrome
I went back to school to become a naturopathic doctor after being diagnosed and told, “You have IBS, sorry for your luck, there really isn’t anything you can do.” I had Dr. Googled it and became enlightened, realizing that this was an epidemic in my family. I soon found out that it was an epidemic in the world as well! I wanted to change that and help people, just like yourself, and in the process ‘fix’ myself and my family. Much like what you’re probably trying to do right now.
My goal is to fix this, to create the platform to really help those that are suffering. To get the proper information to you, so that you can be empowered to live your best life, the legendary life you deserve. Together we can do it. Please share this article with your friends and those that you know are suffering.
The Things I Had to Do to Survive IBS – Warning: GRAPHIC CONTENT
I lived with worries of not being able to go to the bathroom, mechanically (with my hand yes) trying to get the poo out. Gosh I can’t believe that I am sharing that. This is super embarrassing, but after sitting on the toilet for hours, feeling like I have to go and straining and I can’t, you do anything to get it out.
I would avoid social situations all together, preferring to hang out at home, close to the bathroom. I was worried I would have an accident at any given point in time. This was very hard for me, especially because I’m such an outgoing social person. I like my alone time, but being forced to spend time at home wasn’t pleasant. I even got into the habit of carrying a spare pair of underwear in my bag everywhere I went, ‘Just in case!’. It was devastating. Not a way to live at all. I’m so deeply saddened as I write this, reliving the emotions that I went through in that time.
My Parents Also Had IBS But Weren’t Diagnosed
I know both of my parents spent more time dependent on the nearest bathroom than not. I realized that they weren’t as social as they aged because this was also a huge pain point for them. It’s sad that they spent their entire life chained to the bathroom, not understanding what was wrong, and not knowing what to do about it.
I DON’T WANT THE SAME FOR YOU.
Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Genetic?
It is possible. There is a link to early life exposure to stress affecting the bodies natural response to stress. So, your exposure to stress in utero or fetal programming4 as well as experiences as a young child can pre-program you into a maladaptive, unhealthy response to stress, changing the way that your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) functions5. These are the master organs that balance the regulation systems of your body, most responsible for the way your body deals with stress.
In a nutshell, if your mother was dealing with stress, or she was just a stress-head like mine was (and my grandmother, and grandmother before that – may they all rest in peace) while she was pregnant with you or if high stress was the norm in your household, it is possible that it set you up to have a weaker ability to adapt to stressors. Because remember, everything is about practice. If your stress response was over practiced in an unhealthy way in this formative time in your life, this could definitely be a precursor to irritable bowel syndrome and…
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT, BUT IT IS UP TO YOU TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
The Regulatory Systems Impacted In Irritable Bowel Syndrome
When you are under stress, whether it be emotional or physical stress, the body does not have the ability to differentiate6. Two processes occur in the body to try and maintain balance. The inflammatory arm of the immune system activates to try and burn off the stressor. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (a combination of the hormonal and nervous system7) also activates to turn off less important mechanisms that don’t deal with immediate life right now.
These three regulatory systems of the body, the immune, nervous and hormonal system’s goal in health is to keep everything in balance, everything functioning well. But under stress, they shut down non-vital functions for preservation of life. Therefore there’s dysregulation in these systems with IBS8. We also see an elevation of glucocorticoids and inflammatory markers.
So don’t be surprised if you find yourself with multiple conditions on top of your IBS. For me, I had both irritable bowel syndrome as well as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). These are often conditions that respond to an elevation of the bodies’ immune inflammatory messengers and the neurohormonal glucocorticoids.
Hormone Problems and IBS
Is this a coincidence then, that I, like many who have IBS, also have PCOS? No it is not, because the body can only balance so much. In PCOS there are elevated levels of leptin, a hormone that affects food intake, energy balance and fat tissue stores but is also pro-inflammatory to the intestinal tract. Research shows that with irritable bowel syndrome there is also this elevated level of leptin in the intestine9.
When there is stress, many of our non-vital systems like being being fertile, having regular periods, or having a healthy metabolism go into preservation mode, because the infinite intelligence of our bodies doesn’t want to use up resources because it has no idea how long the stressor will last.
Another co-existing hormonal problem that is common with IBS type symptoms, like constipation, is hypothyroid10.
Immune System Problems and IBS
The immune system is regulated by the MICROBIOME. The ever important home of billions of bugs that live on our mucosal membrane and skin.
Healthy, friendly probiotics help to improve the mucosal immune system11, whereas conbiotics™, as I like to call them, or pathogenic bacteria cause total dysfunction of the immune system12.
This leads you susceptible to constantly getting sick. Overreacting to foods as your gut’s reaction to foods is based on the immune system. It is well known that people with IBS react to many foods such as lactose13, gluten14 and other components of wheat to name a few. This is a complex subject on its own–check out our blog on ‘How Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances are Messing with Your IBS’ here.
Nervous System Problems and IBS
Google IBS and you will soon find many links that discuss the coexistence of depression and anxiety with IBS, but also as a coexisting factor with most chronic conditions. Many say that it may be in response to the condition, but it very well may be the cause of the condition, (is it the chicken or the egg, which came first?) as stress significantly alters the bodies’ regulatory homeostatic mechanisms15.
Is Stress the Cause of IBS?
Stress is a root cause of many conditions and chronic diseases. It is likely that it is a root cause of IBS, as the overlap of anxiety, depression, hormonal disturbances and immune variations are all linked to irritable bowel syndrome.
Treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
It’s no surprise that at present the majority of treatments and medicines for irritable bowel syndrome are tools that mediate the functions of these three regulatory systems of the immune, nervous and hormonal systems, as the gut is the main hub for all three.
Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications have been used for IBS, as well as antibiotics such as Rifaximin, as a way to improve the gut microbiome16.
My Choice for Treatment
When I was diagnosed, I was already doing all the supplements, I had done rounds of antibiotics, I wasn’t interested in taking anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants because I didn’t feel that I was deficient in them. I felt better supported if I would take multivitamins, a B-complex and other vitamins and minerals known to be low in people with anxiety, which for me was also a coexisting problem. The problem was I wasn’t getting any better.
Fix the FOUNDATION, Don’t Palliate the Problem
So I choose to look at things from a different, more foundational perspective, and this is how I got relief of my symptoms. Not by looking at what I could take to fix the problem, but what I could do and practice that would prepare my body to be in the best shape and target the regulation of the 3 systems that weren’t in balance. The immune, hormonal and nervous systems of my body. This was my 3 step plan to set the foundation for my healing of irritable bowel syndrome, and what become the foundational plan for all of my patients in clinical practice where I have treated thousands, improved their irritable bowel syndrome and healed their guts.
So I Just Got An IBS Diagnosis – What Now?
These are the three steps to start with.
1. KNOW YOUR STOOLS
Your stools say everything about you. It’s no surprise that irritable bowel syndrome is classified based on the form according to the Bristol Stool Scale and Frequency.
After years of living with IBS, inspecting my stools, then becoming a naturopathic doctor I realized that there was so much more to learn from your stools than just a diagnosis.
I found out that stools could tell you how your hormonal system, immune system and nervous system was working.
They could also tell you key nutrient deficiencies that were implicated in problems with those systems, like magnesium being low in hormonal problems and zinc deficiency in nervous system problems, as an example. They tell about B-vitamins and other necessities to keep the foundation of our bodies functioning in harmony.
I discovered 11 factors of our stools, I call them the Golden Nuggets about your poo. They can tell you about how your digestion is working and so much more. It’s a wealth of information to the extent that if I sat with a patient, I would know exactly what I needed to do just by what they told be about their stools.
This is the most important place to start, because as Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”
It’s time for you to know better. Download my free guide called the 50 Shades of Poo that is the first step in understanding what your poo says about you. This will set you up with an excellent practice so you can take control of your irritable bowel syndrome!
2. ADDRESS YOUR STRESS
Stress plays such a key role in IBS and the problem is we are constantly bombarded with stress. Massages and acupuncture are great ways to balance our stress levels, but we can only do them from time to time because cost is prohibitive and we are so busy, it’s hard to go to an appointment.
I was told for years to do a castor oil pack. A legendary health practice that has been in existence since biblical times and practiced by all systems and cultures of medicine. Indian, Chinese, Greek, Mediterranean, Caribbean, etc.
This tool is predominantly used to practice the pause, or the relaxed state17. It is the staple of my clinical practice, the very first prescription before anything else. Because in the relaxed state you can heal. Your gut microbiota is healthier, your inflammation is down, you cleanse better and your bowels move (these are also all the things the castor oil pack does, independently of helping you to practice the pause). This is the tool that was the MISSING LINK for me in my treatment, as I was doing everything else ‘right’. A healthy diet, good quality supplements, and regular exercise… but once I did this my world changed.
3. FIX YOUR SLEEP
Sleep resets the body and it undeniably helps with cleansing and calming, so that the nervous, hormonal and immune systems have a fighting chance.
One way to improve your sleep is simply by wearing an eye mask. Like the castor oil pack placed on the liver, the eye mask stimulates the pituitary gland to produce melatonin naturally18. This is a supplement-free way to help your body sleep and it’s amazing how a simple strategy can help to improve the bodies’ ability to heal overnight.
The Beauty Sleep Eye Kit™ contains an eye mask as well as a 100ml Cosmetic Castor Oil and cosmetic brush for application of castor oil to the eyelash and eyebrow areas.
So there you have it. Those are the first three things that need to be done once you know you have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. Had I known about these at the beginning of my journey, I would have had a much easier time. My hope is that you take these and let them help you to make a difference in your life. Because you don’t need to suffer. You need to learn and do what will help you to get your best body balance.
If you want to learn more about the re-setting your gut and how to become your best ‘digestive self’, order my book “Oh Sh*t, The 3 Stress-Less Steps to Connect, Clear and Calm Digestion” online here!
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