Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Up to 20% of the population in the U.S. suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Background Information

What does the term “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” mean? The bowel is irritable. IBS involves dysfunction but no anatomical abnormalities. This is because upon diagnostic testing there is no evidence of disease such as ulcers or inflammation. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion – i.e., if the doctors can’t find anything else, a diagnosis of IBS is likely to be made.

Muscles in the bowel normally contract a few times a day, which results in a bowel movement. It is believed that in a person with IBS, these muscles are extremely sensitive to stimuli or triggers. While this would not normally affect most people, triggers such as food and stress can provoke a strong response in a person with IBS. For example, a person without IBS may have no problem eating a salad, but someone with IBS may have a strong response, like pain, constipation or diarrhea. While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, there does seem to be an underlying abnormality in the contractions of the bowel.

The fact that the cause of IBS is officially “unknown” from the point of view of mainstream medicine may be due largely to the fact that medical doctors seldom perform the specialized diagnostic procedures needed to rule out such conditions as parasites or Candida, which may be unsuspected causes of the disorder. These important conditions should not be overlooked— and generally will not be by holistic practitioners. Some of the other conditions that need to be ruled out where IBS symptoms are present are diverticular disease, infectious diarrhea, lactose intolerance, celiac disease and infection in the small intestine from bacterial overgrowth.

Because doctors have been unable to identify an organic cause, emphasis has traditionally been placed on psychological factors, as implied by the term “intestinal neurosis” once used to designate the condition. Certainly stress can aggravate symptoms, even trigger them, but there appear to be important factors involved as well.

The colon of the IBS sufferer seems to be more sensitive and reactive to stimulation than that of most people. Intestinal spasms may result from ingestion of certain foods or medicines and from abdominal distention caused by gas, as well as from emotional stress. While these factors would not cause undue GI distress in the average person, for the IBS sufferer, they can be triggers of painful abdominal spasms.