About 60 million people have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS or IBS). These people struggle with very annoying, often disabling symptoms such as bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and pain. There are several factors that contribute to this syndrome which is also known as an irritated colon , including stress and diet. The good news is that it can be relieved in a number of ways, highlighting functional medicine and natural remedies.

Causes of irritated colon

Numerous factors contribute to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The wear and tear of the lining in the intestines due to stress; too many antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or Advil; steroids; intestinal infections; a low fiber level, a high sugar diet; alcohol and even caesarean sections (which have seen a dramatic increase in recent years).

These and other things trigger and activate an immune response, triggering food allergies and aggravating your second brain (the enteric nervous system), creating chaos that leads to an irritated colon. It is not only your intestine that can be affected, but also your mood, your energy levels, and a number of other problems that can even lead to autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia.

Many doctors view an irritated colon as a psychological condition. However science shows that this is totally wrong. Unfortunately, conventional doctors often tell patients that there is no cure, that everything is in their head, or they prescribe them with antidepressants, sedatives, and other drugs that could potentially make the problem worse.

This is not the answer. To treat an irritated colon, you need to address the underlying causes of why your digestion is not working properly. That’s where functional medicine comes in .

In functional medicine it is known that a disease can have many causes (or that one cause can create many diseases, such as gluten). If we put five people with an irritated colon, the causes can be very different between each person, so one focuses on each person individually to find the cause of the disease.

Food allergies and intolerances as causes of irritated colon

Research tells us that two of the biggest causes of irritable bowel are food allergies and an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine . There may be others, including a lack of digestive enzymes, parasites that live in the gut, zinc or magnesium deficiency, and heavy metal toxicity.

That is why it becomes so critically important to personalize treatment based on the unique circumstances that exist for each person suffering from an irritated colon. The solution is certainly not a one-size-fits-all, but solutions can be found by carefully looking at the underlying causes and treating them.

A landmark article published in the prestigious British medical journal Gut , found that eliminating foods that were identified through allergy tests (IgG antibodies) led to significant improvements in irritated colon symptoms.

What this and other studies clearly reveal is that certain foods can irritate the gut and digestive system. These food sensitivities are not a true allergy, such as a peanut allergy or shellfish allergy, but rather a milder food sensitivity that can cause dire symptoms.

Sensitivity to gluten, dairy and other foods

Of the many common food sensitivities, gluten is perhaps the most prevalent. Even if your doctor tells you that your gluten or celiac antibody tests are normal, there can still be a severe reaction.

Dairy products, which contain proteins like casein and whey and can irritate and inflame the gut, are another common culprit.

There are others, including soybeans, corn, and eggs. Reactions to these foods can cause more than just intestinal problems. They can also lead to obesity, depression, and acne.

Your functional medicine doctor can perform some tests to assess food sensitivities and reactions to gluten.

Intestinal imbalances and bad bacteria

The surface of the small intestine, where food is absorbed, is about the size of a tennis court. That area is also home to about 60 percent of your immune system.

This sophisticated gut-immune system is only a layer of cells away from a toxic sewer: all the bacteria and undigested food particles in the gut.

If that lining breaks down, your immune system will be exposed to foreign food particles, bacteria, and other microbes.

Simply put, the gut microbial ecosystem must be healthy for you to be, too. When your gut bacteria are out of balance – when you have too many pathogenic bacteria and not enough healthy bacteria – you can likely get sick.

Stop and think about this for a minute: You have over a kilo and a half of bacteria – 500 species – in your gut. In fact, there is more bacterial DNA in your body than human DNA itself. Among all that intestinal bacteria, there are the good ones, the bad ones and the very bad ones.

If the bad ones take over, or if they move into areas they shouldn’t be in (like the small intestine, which is normally sterile), they can start fermenting the foods you digest, especially foods with sugar or starch.

Imbalances in the gut ecosystem can trigger or aggravate an irritated colon if they include leaky gut, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and fungal growth. While fixing these and other gut problems usually each become an individual issue, the key to reversing them all is to reset the gut by eliminating the bad stuff and putting the good stuff in.

The biggest change you can make to treat an irritated colon

If you suffer from an irritated colon or Irritated Bowel Syndrome, you understandably want quick relief. The biggest change you can make to get impressive, almost immediate results is to change your diet.

To do this, you will have to try a simple anti-inflammatory diet low in allergens, refined carbohydrates, sugars, and processed foods.

Keep it simple and keep a journal to record how you feel after each meal. You may also want to consider eliminating foods that are difficult for the gut to digest, such as grains and beans.

Remedies to eliminate irritated colon

Because of the many underlying problems that can contribute to this intestinal condition, testing and working with a functional medicine or alternative medicine practitioner is probably the most effective option. With that said, simply applying the following dietary tools and other strategies can help neutralize or prevent irritated gut and create good gut health.

Eat protein

To avoid blood sugar imbalances that feed bad gut bacteria, eat protein at every meal, even breakfast. This will help prevent sudden spikes in your blood sugar. Eat a good protein-based breakfast every day. Eat clean animal proteins, such as fish, turkey, chicken, and lean cuts of lamb, always opting for those that are free range or sustainably raised; also eat plenty of plant proteins like nuts, legumes, and seeds.

Eat high-fiber foods

Whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits contain a lot of beneficial fiber. Don’t be afraid of healthy fat. Increase omega-3 fatty acids by eating cold-water wild salmon, sardines, herring, flax seeds, and even seaweed. Use more grass-fed animal products or organic products.

Eliminate hydrogenated fat

Eliminate all hydrogenated fat such as margarine, butter and processed oils, as well as many baked goods and processed foods. Instead use healthy oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil (especially extra virgin olive oil), cold-pressed sesame, and other nut oils.

Eat fruits and vegetables daily

Eat at least 8 to 10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables a day, which contain disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory molecules.

Avoid soda

Avoid all processed junk food, including sodas, juices, and diet drinks, which impact sugar and lipid metabolism. Calories from liquid sugar are the biggest contributor to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Go for the supplements

Not only do you get rid of the bad things that contribute to an irritated gut, you can also replace them with good things. Zinc, vitamin A, glutamine, omega-3 fats (fish oil), and evening primrose oil are some of the nutrients that help repair the lining of the intestine.

You can also use herbs like quercetin and turmeric to reduce inflammation and heal a leaky gut.

Take probiotics

Repopulate the digestive tract with good bacteria. Take high-potency probiotics twice a day for a month or two. Start slowly and see how probiotics affect the gut. In some cases, certain individuals may need to delay taking probiotics until their gut is in better condition. Consuming fermented foods like kimchi are also great ways to repopulate the intestinal flora.

Reduce stress, sleep well, and exercise

Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga are great ways to reduce stress. Lack of sleep makes you fat and leads to depression, pain, heart disease, diabetes, and many other problems.

Get regular exercise. Even 30 minutes of brisk walking can help, and if you want something more intense, try high intensity interval training or weight resistance.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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