Written by Patrick B. Massey, MD, PhD. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, along with many other diseases, can be greatly improved with life style changes. 

digestive healthYou might be surprised to learn that most of our chronic diseases are not the result of bad luck or poor genes. They are the direct result of our lifestyle choices.

As a result, many are curable if we choose. A case in point is the medical condition known as irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is believed to be an abnormal functioning of the bowel. Symptoms may include constipation, diarrhea or both.

There are four classifications of IBS, but none of the classifications really change the treatment dramatically. IBS is closely associated with chronic stress, anxiety, medication use, depression and numerous other chronic illnesses.

Since there are no structural defects associated with IBS, the root cause has not really been explored. There are common factors associated with IBS and these include stress, diet and antibiotic or other medication use.

Some believe that IBS is genetic or associated with a problem in gut motility. Neither of these theories have reliable evidence to support the conclusions.

There are changes in the bowel bacteria in people with IBS, but it is not known if these changes cause IBS or are the result of IBS. One medical belief consistently associated with IBS is that there is no cure.

Since there is no test for IBS, it is difficult to know how many people have IBS. In the United States it is estimated that about 15 percent of the population (45 million people) have symptoms of IBS. Indeed, there are over 8,000 articles and research studies in the medical literature on IBS.

Medications for IBS focus on reducing the symptoms of the syndrome rather than a cure. However, a cure is certainly possible.

The bowel is a very active organ and the entire inside is regrown about every month. Changes in lifestyle can quickly bring a bowel back into balance. Once a bowel is in balance the symptoms of IBS resolve.

There is robust medical research demonstrating that simple lifestyle choices like reducing stress, limiting sugar and starch, limiting (not necessarily eliminating) gluten, specific changes in diet like increasing fresh fruits and vegetables, proper sleep, exercise and some supplements — not limited to probiotics alone — can result in the resolution of the symptoms of IBS.

Some studies have shown that food allergies may play a role and that an elimination diet can be beneficial. However it is unknown whether the food allergies caused the symptoms of IBS or developed as a result of IBS.

In my clinical experience I have found IBS to be a very curable condition. It seems that lifestyle is critical in the development of IBS.

We live in a very stressful society, our food choices are not always healthy — especially over the holidays. Too many bowel-altering medications are prescribed, we are sleep deprived and do not exercise enough.

I am surprised that IBS is not more common. Making different (better?) lifestyle choices can create a permanent change. IBS is not incurable. It is a choice.

  • Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.

Posted January 30, 2017.