The incidence of gastrointestinal disorders is increasing. This is not surprising in view of the average American’s very poor eating habits. There are several types of GI disorders – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Spastic Colon, and Diverticulitis are a few of the common ones. The common denominator of all of these conditions is that they are rooted in poor dietary habits practiced over an extended period of time.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is characterized with changes in bowel pattern ranging from loose, frequent stools and diarrhea to constipation.
IBS is traditionally treated with medication to relieve either the diarrhea or constipation, and avoidance of foods that trigger symptoms. Most patients end up consuming a diet with lots animal protein, dairy, and refined foods. This form of treatment is generally ineffective and patients usually get worse. One of the byproducts of traditional treatment is continual degeneration of the health of the GI tract, which almost always results in an inability of the patient to absorb nutrients from food.
A more natural approach is almost always better. This should include a protocol for healing the GI tract, adopting a healthier, plant-based diet, and eliminating trigger foods, particularly dairy. The problem for most people is that when they start consuming better foods, such as fruits and vegetables, their symptoms flare and they conclude that they cannot tolerate these foods.
It is best to make these changes while working with a natural health care professional who can identify food allergies and sensitivities, recommend supplements based on the individual’s medical history and symptoms, and improve the diet over time, starting with safe, bland foods and then gradually adding more raw foods, legumes and other foods that, at first, are not tolerated well. Eventually, almost all patients can consume an optimally healthy diet that includes fiber-rich plant foods daily.
In addition to getting rid of terrible symptoms that can destroy quality of life, this approach improves the total health of the individual and restores the ability of the body to absorb nutrients from foods.
Many IBS sufferers require psychological counseling in addition to the therapeutic protocol outlined above. It has been my experience that many people who suffer from chronic conditions for long periods of time, including those with IBS, become very attached to their conditions and, in fact, their disease becomes the way in which they connect with the world. There is a great fear of becoming well and fully functional, which can inhibit recovery.
There are several personality traits common to many IBS sufferers that include hypervigilance, anticipatory anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly effective in helping IBS patients reframe these behaviors by recognizing that although they may experience rewards for some of these behaviors (perfectionism may be helpful in developing a successful career, for example), that they are generally self-defeating.
The successful treatment of IBS involves looking at the totality of the way in which a person lives life – diet, exercise, stress, belief patterns, relationships with others, fears, etc., and a willingness to address all of the issues necessary to restore health.