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Irritable Bowel Syndrome, more commonly known as IBS, is a relatively common digestive disorder that can result in persistent diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain. By current estimates, it is thought that about 10-15% of the population is suffering with IBS.


There is no test that is used to confirm the presence of IBS. Rather, the diagnosis is achieved by ruling out other digestive disorders that cause similar symptoms such as celiac disease, crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or diverticulitis.


Treating IBS is no easy job as there is no direction of treatment. With a diagnosis of IBS, there is no information on why you are experiencing the symptoms you have, only that they are present.

Enter Naturopathic Medicine: our job is to investigate the why. Once you know why you have your symptoms, you can treat the cause.

Symptoms associated with IBS

  • Abdominal pain or cramping that is relieved with a bowel movement
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or occasionally, both
  • Bloating or swelling of your abdomen
  • Excessive flatulence
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn

In my experience, there are four main causes of why someone can develop irritable bowel syndrome:

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth: Current research is showing that up to 84% of IBS cases are due to this infection, affectionately known as SIBO. Normally there is not a lot of bacteria present in the small intestine; rather, an abundance of bacteria is found in the large intestine. When an overgrowth occurs in the small bowel, the bacteria can produce gases which results in bloating and, depending on the type of gas being produced, either constipation or diarrhea.
Small Intestine Fungal Overgrowth (SIFO): SIFO is a very similar disorder to SIBO, except, instead of bacteria being the culprit, this time it’s fungus. Fungi can also cause bloating and gas formation (picture making bread using yeast) that is present in many people with IBS.
Food Sensitivities: Occasionally foods can cause inflammation in the digestive tract by causing immune system activation. When this occurs, typical digestive symptoms include bloating and diarrhea. However, systemic symptoms can also be found when food sensitivities are present such as headaches, fatigue, eczema, and asthma.
Parasites: Lastly, parasitic infections are another poorly diagnosed cause of irritable bowel syndrome. Stool analyses are notorious for providing false negatives which is why it is recommended to have at least 3 stool analyses performed to confirm a negative test. Parasites are more likely to be at fault when symptoms started after travel or weight loss is present as one of the symptoms.

The good news is, once you know why you have IBS, it’s relatively easy to treat! I would recommend making an appointment with your local naturopath to investigate your digestive health and create a treatment plan that is personalized to your condition.


Yours in health,

Dr. Nicole Hartman

About Dr. Nicole Hartman

Dr. Nicole Hartman is a naturopathic physician, a world traveler, a hiker, and a blogger. She focuses her practice in digestion, women's health and weight loss and takes an integrative, evidence-based approach to healthcare.