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|What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
To date, scientists have still to discover a specific cause or trigger for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It occurs when muscular contractions in the intestines take place either too slowly (causing constipation) or too quickly (causing diarrhea, bloating and cramps). This is known as motility dysfunction. There are two types of intestine contractions, segmenting and propulsive. Segmenting contractions keep waste from expelling out of the body too quickly, and when they become too strong it results in constipation and hard stools. Propulsive contractions propel food forward through the digestive tract. It they become too excessive it does not allow the body time to absorb water from the waste matter, resulting in diarrhea. This combination of propulsion and segmentation is called peristalsis and when it is working properly you should not notice it. Possible triggers for changes to these contractions include:
Feeling anxious, angry, tense or stressed can stimulate colon spasms in those prone to IBS symptoms. This is because the colon, brain and gut are connected via a complex matrix of the central and enteric nervous system - both of which react to stress. It explains why people sometimes have 'butterflies' in their stomach or 'nervous diarrhea' when they are nervous. Stress can also cause the digestive system to shut down. This results in digestive juices not being able to sufficiently breakdown food which leaves incomplete food particles knocking around to irritate the intestines. This is why stress management techniques, such as adequate sleep, regular exercise and alternative therapies are important for patients with IBS. The good news is, as scientists learn more about the connection between IBS and the central and enteric nervous systems, it opens new possibilities for new treatment strategies, including IBS natural treatments. Read also about the dangers of stress.
Intolerance to certain foods may be one culprit behind IBS, although some experts insist in reality it only affects a small number of cases. The most common trigger foods are wheat, gluten, dairy, processed refined carbs (such as sugar), alcohol, coffee, tea and citrus fruits. IBS sufferers are recommended to look for celiac products, wheat free and gluten free foods such as those made from millet, buckwheat or corn (usually available in most health stores). All milk, chocolate, yogurt, cream, cheese and ice cream should be avoided as well as fried foods. If you suspect this is a potential cause, it is worth starting an IBS food diary - and following an IBS diet plan. Do also check our IBS recipes.
Often overlooked, but something to consider. Nearly 50 percent of all people with IBS have the parasite blastocystis hominis in their system, and 20 percent have the parasite dientamoeba fragilis. These parasites are commonly contracted by people who travel abroad on vacation, buy food from street vendors, eat raw sushi or undercooked meat. Also, those who consume fresh fruit or vegetables without washing them first. It may be that a virus or bacteria causes the gut to become sensitive resulting in damage and persistent symptoms long term.
Common allergy medications like Benadryl seem to trigger an IBS attack in some people. Antibiotics can also trigger symptoms, possibly because they kill good and bad bacteria which change the balance in the gut. Any yeast infections like Candida can also upset this balance. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Nurofen, Motrin, Advil, Medipren, Nuprin) and diclofenac (voltarol) sometimes make symptoms worse.
It is estimated that nearly half of all people who develop IBS can date the first occurrence of symptoms to a major stressful life situation. This can be a close bereavement, moving house or divorce. Studies seem to concur and it appears that there is a psychological connection.
About 10 to 20 percent of people can date their first IBS experience to an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis (also known as a stomach flu or stomach virus). IBS symptoms may be triggered by an imbalance of digestive enzymes remaining after the infection. Alternatively, it may be that gastroenteritis stimulates the nerve endings in the gut so much that they become chronically stimulated, and do not return to normal.
The Hormone Connection
Some researchers believe that hormones may be involved in IBS as many women experience worse symptoms during menstruation and pregnancy. One small study carried out by the University of Texas revealed that women with IBS who were treated with hormone therapy reported significant improvements in symptoms. In fact some reported moving from symptoms which were debilitating to being completely symptom-free. When the hormone was withdrawn scientists noticed that symptoms returned within 3 to 5 days. Male hormones are also under study. As men appear to suffer less from IBS than women, researchers speculate over the possible 'protection' benefits of male hormones. One study showed for example than men with low levels of testosterone were more likely to develop IBS than men with higher levels. Additional studies are however required before any hormone therapy can be advocated as an IBS treatment. You may find it useful to read about the development of the female body.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
This condition affects millions of people and often remains undiagnosed. Those with a leaky gut are unable to absorb sufficient nutrients from their food which leads in the long term to many health conditions. Symptoms include abdominal pain, muscle, food allergies, heartburn, bloating, insomnia, gluten intolerance, depression and malnutrition. It is connected with many conditions including IBS, celiac disease, recurrent yeast infections, fibromyalgia, eczema, dermatitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, ulcerative colitis and even autism. Scientists are not sure of the cause, but a stressful lifestyle and eating the wrong foods may be a factor. When toxins build up in the intestines, such as impacted faces, parasites and dead cells, this can irritate the lining of the intestines, causing damage. When the lining of the intestine become 'leaky' it allows undigested food particles into the blood stream, triggering infections, food intolerances and allergies.