Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a tricky condition that often leaves people suffering from digestive symptoms for years. In this article, we’ll discuss how we approach evaluation and treatment for IBS from a functional medicine
What is IBS?
IBS is an intestinal disorder commonly characterized by abdominal discomfort in combination with diarrhea and/or constipation. Up to 16 percent of Americans may suffer from IBS
, and this condition is more common in women and young adults (1
Common symptoms of IBS include:
- Diarrhea, constipation, or a combination
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty or straining with bowel movements
Unfortunately, individuals with IBS are also more likely to report a lower quality of life and higher depression scores than people without this condition (2
Conventional Treatments for IBS
Conventional treatment for IBS is largely based on which symptoms the individual reports. Certain medications may be prescribed like laxatives, fiber, anti-diarrheals, or even low-dose antidepressants. In some scenarios, the healthcare provider may recommend eliminating foods that could make symptoms worse, like dairy, caffeine, and fatty foods.
Unfortunately, conventional medicine often fails to effectively reduce IBS symptoms.
In fact, studies estimate that less than 50 percent of patients are satisfied with the standard treatment they receive for their IBS (3).
Functional Medicine for IBS
Functional medicine is a different approach to treating health conditions and preventing disease by finding the root cause. Instead of treating your IBS symptoms, a functional medicine provider would dive deeper to find “the why” behind your symptoms. In a functional medicine assessment for IBS, your provider will ask you in-depth questions to identify the root causes of your symptoms such as:
- Have you had frequent or prolonged use of antibiotics?
- Have you had prolonged or regular use of PPIs or acid-blocking drugs?
- Did your symptoms start after an infection or stomach bug?
Our assessment will also include questions about your diet, lifestyle, work and home environment, and sleep habits. A symptom questionnaire helps us understand the type, frequency, and severity of your IBS symptoms. This questionnaire will also ask you about symptoms that aren’t primarily related to your gut like brain fog, fatigue, skin health, and more.
The Root Approach: Test Don't Guess
In addition to asking the appropriate questions above to start investigating root causes, we recommend the following valuable IBS functional medicine testing in our functional medicine membership:
1. Microbiome/Stool Analysis:
We assess your gut bacteria, see how well you are secreting digestive enzymes, and evaluate for any signs of parasites, yeast overgrowth or inflammation. These results help guide our treatment plan and also let us know when appropriate referrals are necessary.
2. Root custom blood panel.
In addition to evaluating thyroid function with a full thyroid panel (because thyroid issues can worsen/contribute to IBS), we also look for nutrient deficiencies that can both contribute to poor gut health OR be caused by poor gut health (such as iron, zinc, and B12).
Functional Medicine Treatment of IBS
Personalization is one of the biggest differences between conventional and functional medicine.
We help our members form an individualized treatment plan for their IBS. While the treatment obviously differs depending on the overall assessment and findings, let’s discuss a few common interventions for someone with IBS.
A low-FODMAP diet is a short-term elimination diet that helps identify which foods worsen your GI symptoms. Certain foods contain higher levels of FODMAPs that cause your gut bacteria to release excess gas. By eliminating the foods highest in FODMAPs, you may experience less digestive symptoms. Some common foods eliminated on this diet include wheat, dairy (lactose), onions, garlic, and high-fructose corn syrup.
However, unlike the conventional use of this diet, we generally only use the low-FODMAP diet as an initial intervention while also treating the root causes of your symptoms.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Some studies suggest that IBS is caused by dysbiosis—an imbalance of gut bacteria. SIBO
is one type of dysbiosis that may be responsible for many IBS symptoms. In fact, one study found that up to 78 percent of IBS patients also tested positive for SIBO (4).
Our supplement protocol* for SIBO often includes:
- Microbiome Balance: 1 capsule before breakfast (1 bottle)
- Root Digestive Enzymes: 1 with each large meal up to three times a day for 3 months or as desired
- Gut Health Rebalance: 1 scoop in water daily taken for about 3 months or as desired
This protocol aims to remove bacterial overgrowth, promote optimal digestion, and repair the gut lining to eliminate SIBO and IBS symptoms.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
have shown more promise lately in treating individuals with IBS and reducing digestive symptoms (5
). This is likely because probiotics modify the gut microbiome and may correct some dysbiosis (a common cause of IBS).
We may recommend a probiotic as step four of our SIBO protocol. Our favorite SIBO probiotic
contains three different probiotic strains and a gut-healing ingredient called immunoglobulins. These immunoglobulins are proteins that help the immune system fight off harmful bacteria, pathogens, and parasites within the gut which may also contribute to IBS (6
Stress and poor sleep
can worsen IBS symptoms and your overall health, so we discuss lifestyle interventions with all of our clients. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night. Practice good sleep hygiene by reducing caffeine and alcohol and limiting screen exposure before bed. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, our Sleep Support
supplement offers a blend of calming herbs which promote quality sleep without morning drowsiness.
Mind-body interventions, like meditation, are also effective at reducing the impact of stress on your GI tract. For example, people who practice mindfulness medications report lower IBS symptom scores, less perceived stress, and a higher quality of life (3
IBS is a digestive disorder that leaves many people feeling frustrated with conventional treatments. A functional medicine plan for IBS finds the root causes of your symptoms and may include interventions like a low-FODMAP diet, treating bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), using probiotics, and targeted lifestyle changes.
Learn more about finding the root cause of your IBS in our functional medicine membership program.