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Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Why a diagnosis doesn’t give you the answers you need

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a problem I see a lot in my clinic, and it can be problematic on many different levels. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, you may well have been suffering with it for years and, while a diagnosis can – at first– offer comfort in finally having a recognised problem, the satisfaction is short lived because often that’s where all support ends, and you’re left no further forward in actually fixing what the problem is.



The difficulty begins because IBS is essentially meaningless; it’s a catch-all term used to encompass a huge variety of digestive issues. It is really important that you dig a little deeper to find out what is actually going on for you.

There can be many reasons for IBS symptoms like bloating, stomach pain, constipation, loose stools, erratic toilet habits, reflux and indigestion.

Here are just a few common causes that may be resulting in your digestive discomfort.


1 SIBO

(small intestine bacterial overgrowth)

Around 70% of people with IBS will have SIBO. Though you might have heard about good (and bad) bacteria in the gut, really what experts are talking about is the balance of bacteria in the large intestine: the colon.


Only very small amounts of bacteria should reside in the small intestines, and the body should regularly perform a flush to sweep bacteria from the small intestine and into the large intestine. This flush is called the ‘migrating motor complex’ (MMC). For a huge variety of reasons (historic food poisoning being the most common, but also low levels of stomach acid or adhesions play a role, among others) the bacteria are not swept away. The trouble is that these bacteria can ferment the food in your small intestine, causing gas, belching, bloating, pain and a variety of other symptoms, including constipation and/or loose stools, and even anxiety. A breath test or stool test can establish which gases are present, and an action plan can be made based on your results.




2 Lactose intolerance


This is when your body is not able to tolerate lactose, a type of sugar found naturally in milk and other dairy products.


Essentially, bacteria in your intestine feed on these milk sugars, leading to a host of IBS symptoms, like bloating and gas, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea. It can go hand in hand with other digestive complaints, such as coeliac disease or increased intestinal permeability (‘leaky gut’). Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed via a simple at-home breath test.




3 Fructose malabsorption

The symptoms are very similar to lactose intolerance. Fructose (which is found in fruit, honey and many processed foods) is a sugar, which, like lactose, is digested in the small intestine. Some people cannot absorb fructose, and what is not absorbed is fermented by intestinal bacteria, causing bloating, cramping, gas and distension of the stomach. You might also experience brain fog and headaches. A breath test will diagnose the condition.


4 Dysbiosis

This is an imbalance in the levels of beneficial (good) and pathogenic (bad) bacteria in the large intestine or colon. This is now common due to overuse of antibiotics and alcohol, an increase in high sugar diets, and stress. Symptoms can vary from a sluggish bowel or diarrhoea, pain, bloating and flatulence, to chronic bad breath, joint pain, fatigue and food sensitivities. Dysbiosis is also implicated in a variety of health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. A stool test can help establish whether your gut bacteria are out of balance, along with a host of other markers that might be useful in getting to the root of your digestive problems.

5 Yeast overgrowth

Where the gut environment becomes out of balance (due to dysbiosis), yeast can thrive. Diets high in sugar feed the yeast. Symptoms of yeast overgrowth include recurring thrush, gas or bloating, fatigue, bad breath, cravings for sweet foods, joint pain and brain fog.

A stool test can establish the presence of candida or other yeast overgrowth.


If you’re serious about getting to the bottom of the problem (no pun intended), I’m happy to discuss your symptoms and help find a way forward. You can book a free Digestive Health Review with me by clicking here


If you have any questions about this blog, or any other digestive health issues you are experiencing please do send me an email sarah@brighternutrition.co.uk

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