How Functional Medicine Treats IBS Naturally

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Long term, IBS can also lead to nutrient deficiencies,

Conventional medicine has a very limited scope of treatment for digestive symptoms.

It usually involves laxatives for constipation, anti-diarrhea drugs, anti-depressant medications (if their doctors think their IBS is psychosomatic), pain medications, steroids, and in the worst cases, immune-suppressing medications with harmful side effects.

Using functional medicine, I can assess the function of organs and organ systems in your body that are crucial for healthy digestion.

Complex IBS

Neurotransmitter imbalances, suboptimal stomach acid levels, liver problems, damaged gut microbiome, and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis imbalances are all potential causes of IBS that are rarely investigated.

Once the cause of your symptoms is found then we can reduce, or alleviate your symptoms entirely. Not only can your symptoms go away, but your whole body can drastically improve in its overall function.

If you have digestive symptoms of any kind, the likelihood is very high that you also are experiencing a other symptoms in a different part of the body - it may be in your brain - 'brain fog', your joints with joint pain, your sleep may be affected, your sex drive may be decreased, and your weight may not be where you want it.

Here are two example patients to show you how different people arrive at long lasting solutions for their IBS.

a dairy smoothie. text overlay saying Functional medicine solutions for IBS

IBS. . . Even With A Healthy Diet

It is very common for patients to come to me with immaculate diets but who still have severe digestive symptoms.

They only buy organic, they make everything at home and they have tried various combinations of Paleo, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Autoimmune Paleo, FODMAP, SCD or Keto with very limited success.

Or they may have achieved significant improvement in the beginning with these diets but they have hit a plateau and now feel stuck eating a very strict diet just to remain symptom free.

After putting so much time, effort and money into these diets it can be very frustrating when you still experience severe digestive symptoms.

This was the case for 'Mona,' a woman in her mid thirties who was on a Mediterranean gluten free diet. She practiced yoga twice a week and cardio three times a week. Berries and nuts were her only indulgences.

a group of women doing yoga

After a functional medicine appointment we found that the primary stressor on her body was not based in her diet or in a nutritional deficiency or a genetic variant - it was in her lifestyle.

Mona had become accustomed to high amounts of stress for long periods of time.

She had begun to feel like her body never recharged at night, her sleep was not restful and she frequently jolted awake in a panic.

After evaluating her adrenal function through physical examination, blood tests, and her medical history, it was determined that she was in adrenal fatigue.

Can Stress Cause IBS?

Your adrenal glands are responsible for secreting key stress hormones (like adrenaline) so you can run away from danger or cram for an exam, but if you are stressed for too long, the strain on these glands can cause them to no longer be able to 'keep up' with the daily stresses of life.

Not only had her stress levels impaired the function of her adrenal glands, it also damaged her stomach function. High stress (which means high adrenaline and cortisol levels) will damage the stomach's ability to produce and secrete stomach acid.

Stress not only takes a major toll on psychological health but also damages internal biochemistry at the cellular level.

Her stomach acid levels were so low that she was not fully digesting food - causing her partially digested food to stay in her system too long. This caused loose stools and occasional constipation.

Even though she had tried a mixture of fiber, laxatives, strict diets and magnesium on her own to help her symptoms - nothing seemed to work.

Treating IBS By Supporting Gut Health

After her functional medicine appointment we put Mona on targeted supplementation to support her adrenals and liver function, and modified her diet so that she produced the right balance of stomach acid.

We did not use a popular supplement for stomach acid called Betaine HCL because her examination revealed it would most likely cause further damage to her stomach.

Most people who have IBS have an underlying stomach problem in whic