The IBS Diagnosis: What Does It Really Mean?

It means that your doctor has NO idea what is wrong with you. In other words, the IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) diagnosis is a misnomer. It should be the IDK diagnosis.

And this is how the story usually goes:

You have been experiencing gas, pain and bloating for weeks, months or even years. You’ve been to your primary care doctor multiple times and have even been to see a gastroenterologist about your symptoms. Maybe you have had invasive diagnostic testing such as an endoscopy or a colonoscopy. The doctor may have even said everything looked fine. If not, you may have been told that your esophagus, stomach and/or intestines were irritated and compromised. But he or she has no explanation as to why. You may have tried probiotics, fiber supplements, antacids, and/or prescription medications. All to no avail. Your doctor is frustrated that things are not improving and has no other suggestions beyond recommending another test or medication. And maybe your doctor has even suggested that your symptoms are all in your head. Your friends are tired of hearing about the pain and discomfort you are experiencing on a daily basis and now you wonder if even THEY are thinking it’s all in your head. And then you question yourself…IS it all in my head??!!

The answer is: NO. It isn’t all in your head. The answer is in your gut. Your gut is telling you something is wrong. However, modern medicine is not designed to treat the patient from the inside out, to heal the body and fix what is at the core of the symptoms. Modern medicine is designed to diagnose and treat pharmaceutically. If you have a health problem, modern medicine tells us that there is a pill to fix it. Unfortunately, this is only making matters worse. I have many patients come into my office with this same story. They have found me on their own or have been referred by a doctor that understands their limits on being able to help their patient from the traditional approach. I am sometimes their last hope. That’s a lot of pressure. But I have to say, fortunately, the answer isn’t too complicated. The path to relieving the symptoms of IBS are fairly simple…IF you follow them. So keep reading in order to find out how to get rid of IBS symptoms for good.

Give yourself two weeks. It will take two weeks (yes, that’s it!) to navigate the course to becoming symptom free. Yes that means no more gas, pain and bloating IF you follow these steps:

  1. Cut out gluten. It sounds extreme and it pretty much is. But, if you really want relief from the symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, then it will absolutely be worth it! Gluten is found mostly in breads, pastas and baked goods. It is also found in seasonings, dressings and processed and prepared foods. Substitute with gluten free whole grains such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, or use starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes or butternut squash in place of pastas and breads. Look for gluten free versions of your breads and pastas if you must, but try to look for those made of whole gluten free grains such as brown rice versus white rice.

  2. Cut out dairy. This will be hard for many of you. Cheese and ice-cream lovers are cringing right now. But again, it is worth it. There are great dairy alternatives out there. Try a non-GMO dairy free creamer made from almond and/or coconut milk. Unsweetened almond, rice, cashew or hemp milk are great substitutes for cereals and the non-dairy frozen desserts just keep getting better. As for cheese, this is a tough one. There are a few out on the market made from finely ground nuts that are fairly good, but I have yet to find a good dairy and soy free cheese. There are really good non-dairy butter substitutes made from coconut oil.

  3. Cut out soy. Soy is a great dairy substitute and is a vegetable that is high in protein, however soy is also full of phytoestrogens, which means that it acts as estrogen in the body. In theory, this looks like it could be a good thing, but it isn’t. Our environment is full of so many endocrine disruptors right now (environmental pollutants, pesticides, plastics, medications, cleaning supplies, etc.) that we need to minimize the phytoestrogens we are taking in as they are becoming endocrine disruptors this day in age in America. The cleanest soy products would be organic, non-GMO soy beans or edamame. But it just goes downhill from there when we alter the soybean seed genetically, add pesticides and herbicides, and then isolate and concentrate different parts of the soy plant. This is a recipe for disaster.

  4. Stop taking probiotics. Unless you have recently been on antibiotics or had the stomach bug, stop taking probiotics. It could be making your symptoms worse. You may add them later on, but for right now, stop them.

  5. Avoid fermented foods and beverages. Vinegar, overly ripened fruits, mushrooms, Kombucha, and yes, alcohol should be avoided for now. Fermented foods and beverages could be feeding into your problem. And i literally mean “feeding”. Feeding the bacteria that are causing your symptoms by creating an imbalance in the microbiome (in other words, your gut is out of balance and you keep adding to the heavier side).

  6. Avoid raw fiber. At least for now. A big one to avoid for now is salads. Yes, they are healthy. But when your gastrointestinal tract is irritated and compromised, it is in no position to be able to digest and tolerate large amounts of raw and fibrous roughage passing through it. Down the line you can re-introduce salads, but for now…cooked vegetables are your best bet.

  7. Avoid artificial everything. Avoid artificial sweeteners, preservatives and overly processed foods. If you can get organic, do so. For “gut” sensitive people, all of the pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, food additives, artificial sweeteners, etc. will affect your gastrointestinal system. Try to eat as clean as possible.

  8. Avoid all other foods and beverages that you already knew were causing distress. Eggs, citrus fruits, green peppers, spicy foods, coffee? If you know that you don’t tolerate certain foods already, then stay away from them. Pretty simple.

Eight steps, that’s it. Try to do them all at once if you can. For two weeks. Track your food and beverages and your symptoms. You will find that they are going away. In two weeks, my hope is that the gas, pain and bloating symptoms of IBS are starting to feel like a distant memory. As you move forward, remember to continue to follow these eight steps as closely as you can. You may be able to add in some dairy or gluten in small amounts. I would suggest introducing one thing at a time and on a rotational basis of every three days so you can isolate which foods are causing distress. Continue to keep your food journal and track symptoms. And the (sad) truth is, if you happen to go on a vacation to Italy and eat their bread and pasta and drink their wine, you will probably be fine. They do not have the preservatives, food additives, pesticides and genetically modified seeds that we do here in the United States. And if you are sensitive to all of these things, then you no doubt will find that cleaning up your diet with these eight steps will definitely help (or moving to Europe).

So, here’s to your health and feeling better in the days, weeks and months to come.