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Brain Body Well ~ Natural & Lifestyle Medicine / Digestive Wellness / Mental Health

Got IBS? It's Not “Just Anxiety”

Do you experience symptoms like bloating, gas, tummy pain, constipation or diarrhoea? Commonly diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), symptoms like these can be frustrating. What can be even more frustrating is going to the doctor and being told that "everything looks normal", or that your symptoms are "just anxiety".  

Taking this on board, you may even have tried different ways to reduce stress but achieved little to no change in your symptoms.  This is when many start to blame themselves or begrudgingly accept the advice that they need to "learn to live with it".  If this is you, read on, because your symptoms may have a physical cause that is 100% treatable.

A Common Cause of IBS

While anxiety can certainly exacerbate irritable bowel syndrome, the truth is that there is often an underlying physical cause that also needs to be addressed.  One of the most common causes of IBS is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO occurs when there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. This can lead to a range of gut symptoms. The most typical ones are bloating, gas, abdominal pain, nausea, acid reflux, constipation, and diarrhea. Sufferers can also experience symptoms that don't appear to be gut-related, including iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies, food intolerances, fatigue, low mood, anxiety, joint pain, restless legs and fibromyalgia.

How can such a small change in the gut produce so many different symptoms? An overgrowth of microorganisms in the small intestine increases the production of gases which create discomfort, interfere with motility and put pressure on the esophageal valve, causing reflux.  SIBO also interferes with the digestion and absorption of nutrients and damages the gut lining causing leaky gut and inflammation.  This combination of inflammation and undigested food, bacteria and waste products leaking through the gut wall into the blood stream, can wreak havoc on the immune system and nervous system.

What causes SIBO?

SIBO can be triggered by a number of factors, including a bad bout of food poisoning or viral gastroenteritis, chronic stress and anxiety, high sugar and starch diets, hormonal imbalances, and medications such as antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). It can also be caused by structural issues in the gut due to adhesions left by abdominal surgeries. This can slow down the movement of food and allow bacteria to accumulate.

How is SIBO diagnosed?

One of the challenges with diagnosing SIBO is that it can be difficult to detect using traditional gut tests. For example, stool tests, are designed to look for bacteria in the colon, not the small intestine. A more accurate way to diagnose SIBO is through a breath test, which measures the levels of hydrogen and methane gases produced by the bacteria in the small intestine.

If you've been struggling with gut problems and have been told that everything looks normal, it may be worth seeing a healthcare practitioner who understands SIBO and requesting a breath test. If SIBO is detected, treatment can involve a combination supplements, and dietary changes. It's important to work with someone who can develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs.

While anxiety can certainly contribute to gut problems, it's important to remember that anxiety is not always the main underlying cause. It's important to address the physical factors that may be contributing to gut symptoms in order to achieve long-term relief. That being said, it's also important to address the role that anxiety is playing in gut health. Chronic stress and anxiety change the gut microbiome and one way it does this is by slowing down intestinal movements. This stress induced stagnation can cause gut problems, as well as making it more difficult to fully recover gut health.

Work with me

Looking for help with gut and anxiety symptoms? I combine my expertise in nutrition and mental health to help you treat these types on symptoms on a deeper level.  If you are interested in working with me you can book an initial assessment through our contact page.

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