“I suffer from IBS”.

How many times have you heard this… or perhaps said it yourself?

IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. About 2 in 3 IBS sufferers are female. About 1 in 3 IBS sufferers are male. IBS affects people of all ages, even children (1).

Years ago, I, too, was given this ‘diagnosis’ when I was in the midst of my own gut dysfunction.

The third or fourth gastroenterologist I saw, advised me that whatever I was eating was not likely playing too large a role in how I was feeling and that I should absolutely be taking a medication to control it.

And while there does not exist a test to definitively diagnose this condition, current treatments include medications with mild to serious side effects such as (2):

Alosetron, designed to relax the colon and slow the movement of waste through the lower bowel and has been linked to rare but important side effects, so it should only be considered when other treatments aren’t successful.

Eluxadoline (Viberzi), which can ease diarrhea by reducing muscle contractions and fluid secretion in the intestine, and increasing muscle tone in the rectum. Side effects can include nausea, abdominal pain and mild constipation…and pancreatitis

Rifaximin (Xifaxan), an antibiotic can decrease bacterial overgrowth and diarrhea.

Lubiprostone (Amitiza), which can increase fluid secretion in your small intestine to help with the passage of stool. It’s approved for women who have IBS with constipation, and is generally prescribed only for women with severe symptoms that haven’t responded to other treatments.

Linaclotide (Linzess), which also increase fluid secretion in your small intestine to help you pass stool… but it causes diarrhea.

Since symptoms of what is often categorized into IBS can also be symptoms of other gut or inflammatory related conditions, an approach to treating which solely focuses on medication alone (and can also recreate some of the very symptoms the patient is suffering from) seems incomplete, not to mention premature.

In other words, there is a time and place when a doctor prescribing and a patient subsequently taking a medication would make sense, but how can it be that this is what we see as the very first course of action?

For me, trying to get to the root cause made more sense and is what I opted to do.

And after 20 years have passed and I’ve had the opportunity to work with many clients, from many different background but all sharing the same presentation of symptoms, I believe IBS to be a catch all phrase.

Not quite sure exactly what this patient has going on, and we don’t actually have a test to determine this… but let’s just say it’s IBS.

Fortunately, as we learn more about the gut brain axis and the relationship between gut health and the overriding health of our entire bodies, we as patients are less likely to settle for diagnoses that leave us perhaps feeling worse, once the medications’ side effects are factored in, but certainly leave us more confused and what we can eat, and how much and when.

The good news is that we can begin our own self testing simply by implementing eating strategies that are far more likely to create a healthy gut and move away from inflammation that so many have system wide.

Broadly put, an approach which reduces or removes foods which are causing inflammation and adding foods that will promote restoration of the gut lining is crucial.

Below are the top five strategies I use with private clients as a foundation for creating the very first steps toward their path to healing their gut.

It’s certainly not a one size fits all approach, but most of us can benefit from cleaning things up in order to learn more about how what we are eating is determining how we feel.

Quite possibly the most inflammatory substance in our bailiwick and certainly the one with zero health benefits, white sugar just needs to go. Don’t forget, however, that grains and beans can also lead to inflammation (3) as can a diet in which too many calories are coming from carbohydrate in general, including too much fruit.

Toss the toxic canola, the sunflower and the corn oils and bring in the grass fed tallow, the pasture raised lard and the duck fat. These ‘ancestral’ fats didn’t lead to health concerns when our great grandparents ate them and they won’t do so with us, four generations later, either.

If the beef on your plate contains traces of GMO grain, antibiotics and pesticides sprayed on the grains it ate… you’re eating it, too. Better off eating proteins that you can be sure came from reputable and humane providers in your community. Balking at the price? No need; only small portions are indicated for any of us. There’s simply no time when any of us needs to sit down to a 12 ounce steak multiple times per day… or week!

Nutrient dense, high in fiber but low in net carbs and the richest source of a vast array of micronutrients, these are truly our food powerhouses

Fermented foods, foods rich in pro and prebiotics and bone broth are key in helping to rebuild a strong gut

Other life events can certainly contribute to gut dysfunction; stress and lack of sleep and relaxation are absolutely a part of this picture, so the road to health must include attention to these key contributors as well.

If you’re suffering, and coming from someone who lived this for decades, I know how awful it can be, why wouldn’t you start with the one risk-free thing you can have complete control of: your diet?

I believe it to be quite empowering; when a client definitely puts together the fact that when they eat a particular food, they react in a certain way and can therefore choose not to eat that food, it’s incredibly transformative for them to finally feel like they are beginning to see the light at the end of the murky tunnel of subclinical health, through food.