A summary of key points.
In this mini update, learn more about possible contributors to IBS, and how simple diet or supplemental interventions may improve it. There’s a lot more than just probiotics to try!
- The importance of the pancreas and digestive enzyme secretion,
- Support for improving constipation,
- And how mealtime habits can be a simple solution!
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) 101 – The Doctor is in!
From time to time everyone has episodes of digestive unrest, however some of us more than others unfortunately find this to be a chronic state. It’s then that the doctor is seen, and the most common diagnosis is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Medication options are limited, and prescriptions may include a gentle laxative, fibre, water, or anti-diarrheal if necessary. In a more holistic practice, dietary suggestions or inclusion of a probiotic also may be on the list of things to try. But are these really the only options? If you enter a functional medicine practitioners office, they definitely won’t be!
What’s the pancreas got to do with it?
Digestive secretions of the pancreas are necessary for appropriate breakdown of food substances into the smaller molecules which our body is able to utilise. Some of the enzymes that are produced by the pancreas are trypsinogen, chymotrypsinogen, carboxypeptidase, and lipase. An enzyme is often named with the similar root of the substance it breaks down. Lipase breaks down lipids (fats), peptidases break down peptides (proteins). The enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, a milk sugar, is not something made by the pancreas but by the cells lining the small intestine. There are many reasons why the body at times may not have adequate digestive enzyme levels, whether it be genetics, a recent gut bug, or other chronic conditions like coeliac or pancreatic disease. Even stress can negatively impact our body’s production of digestive enzymes! For this reason, taking a supplement known as a digestive enzyme may help many individuals with digestion.
Comprehensive digestive enzymes often include both enzymes made by the pancreas and other parts of the digestive tract for a full blend of things such as lipase, lactase, amylase, and protease or peptidase. Alternatives to supplements specifically called digestive enzymes are pancreatic glandulars, bromelain (an enzyme from pineapple), and papain (an enzyme from papaya). Pancreatic glandular substances contain enzymes which the pancreas secretes. Bromelain and papain are enzymes which support protein digestion. Digestive enzymes should be taken slightly before or at the beginning of meals to support digestion.
Just can’t go (constipation)!
Absolutely everyone has had an experience where their body feels “backed up” or that they “just can’t go.” Constipation can occur with stress, altered sleep patterns, medications, and dietary changes. Many hormones and neurotransmitters in the body affect bowel motility, as does the diet which we eat. Even bowel secretions from the stomach and gallbladder have an impact further down on motility and if they are low can lead to the system backing up and constipation. The gut flora affects things as well, which is why at times a probiotic, antibiotics, or botanical antimicrobials may affect bowel patterns.
Because of the dependence that can occur with stimulant laxatives, which include many of the over-the-counter products as well as the herbs senna and cascara, working with other things that support normal motility are much more gentle on the body and won’t leave one racing for the toilet when they kick in. An extract from the plant known as Perilla (Perilla fructescens), is one such option as it gently supports motility. Perilla leaf extract also has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent option for something like IBS. Modified citrus pectin can be used to add fibre, which often enhances bowel movements, and for its action as a binder to help “clean things up.” This combination, especially when enhanced with other gut anti-spasmodics such as fennel and ginger can be very useful for getting constipated bowel patterns back on track. Feeling like things are “moving again” really makes life much more pleasant!
Supporting digestion with bitter herbs in addition to the aforementioned digestive enzymes can provide a boost for digestion and supports normal motility. Bitter herbs are a gentle nudge to the digestive system, and promote digestive secretions of stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile from the liver and gallbladder. Bitter herbs include gentian, dandelion, artichoke, and even chamomile. Many people dislike the taste of bitter because we have been so conditioned by our culture and foods available to us to seek things that are sweet, but it is the bitter things that actually help digestion. Bitter herbs can be found in tinctures or taken in as foods or teas.
Eating a balanced diet that includes adequate fibre, water, and nutrients including fats all are things that support the body to have proper digestive function. Although water is important, consuming the bulk of liquids away from meals is better to support digestion, as if liquids are with meals they may dilute and lessen the concentration of digestive secretions. The manner in which meals are consumed also affects digestion. Eating on the run has a negative effect on the “rest-and-digest” state that the body requires for proper digestion. Many people probably can remember work lunches at the desk, or grabbing a bite between work and evening activities while driving, and the sensation of “gut rot” or abdominal pain that followed. Although the types of food one consumes can lead to this, not giving the body time for digestion also can! So sit and take some time to eat your meals! Your body will thank you!