IBS: The Beast in the Belly

"...an overpowering Heavy Metal Punk concert with the good bacteria suddenly screaming 'More gas! More bloat! More pain! More diarrhea!'”

While it’s true that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) won’t kill you, those who are stricken with it will often say they sure feel like they’re dying! There are gut disorders, diseases and syndromes that are life threatening, but IBS is a random functional problem that just makes the sufferer feel like crap.

IBS is a collection of symptoms that doctors associate with a malfunction of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract).  The difficult aspect of treating IBS is that it isn’t the result of being “sick,” in that it isn’t triggered by a bacteria or virus, and it isn’t caused by a physically damaged GI tract. Rather, it’s more like blaming yourself for not doing well in school only to one day discover you’re dyslexic. IBS isn’t a disease, it’s just the gut overreacting or reacting improperly to stress or pollution or spicy enchiladas with the relatives.

A doctor cannot provide the patient with a specific reason that there has been an IBS flare-up nor is there any medication available that can “treat” IBS. This uncertainty distinguishes IBS from more serious conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diverticular disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease or colorectal cancer, which cause damage to the gut.  Doctors are better able to diagnose and treat these more serious conditions because there is a more obvious cause of pain and discomfort.  IBS sufferers, on the other hand, generally have healthy guts that work just fine—and then don’t.

In trying to understand IBS, I began to see the gut as a finicky, angry, unresponsive teenager. We can eat the same food for years on end and then suddenly—usually in our 20s or 30s—the IBS gut rebels. But why? That question has left the medical profession scratching their collective heads for years. Since IBS highly correlates with stress, maybe it’s because people are suddenly on their own at that age: in and out of college, getting a job, dating, starting a family!!!!! Talk about stress! That’s enough to keep anyone’s gut tied in knots through the years.

So, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, the gut doesn’t want to act properly, doesn’t want to “behave.” The gut wants to assert itself and go its own way, resisting the once uncomplicated act of digestion, deciding instead that it wants to be painful and gassy and bloated and—well, the rest of the story gets kinda’ messy. But really, who needs that from their gut?

So, like our willful teenage rebel, the IBS gut responds to stimuli in an uncomfortable, uncooperative and unacceptable way. Maybe a better way to describe the condition is with the phrase “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” And in this case it’s the bacteria in our guts that are getting the wrong message.

Yes, dear reader, our gut bacteria communicate. I know, I know, it sounds silly and surreal and maybe even a little scary, but it’s true; and that unbelievable communication is not only essential to our health and serenity, but to our survival, as well. About the only time I want to hear from my gut is when it tells me it’s time to eat (though my wife might comment that I seem to hear that particular message a bit too often). For the IBS afflicted, this communication becomes a real Tower of Bacterial Babel.  One minute your microbiota is in harmony like a quiet symphony and the next it’s an overpowering Heavy Metal Punk concert with the good bacteria suddenly screaming “More gas! More bloat! More pain! More diarrhea!” You ask yourself, “Man, how did I get a ticket to this gig!?!” Unfortunately, no one knows for sure. Not yet, anyway. Nevertheless, the IBS sufferer has to try and maintain through the pain and some simple coping strategies can help: eat smaller meals; add fiber to your diet; avoid situations that trigger stress; relax more often and drink something soothing like peppermint or chamomile tea (please note that caffeine seems to aggravate IBS symptoms); and consume probiotic bacteria. Not surprisingly, I recommend Vidazorb® Plus on a daily basis and Belly Boost™ if you are battling diarrhea.

In a paper by Barbara Sheil et al. entitled, Probiotics: A Role in Therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Disease,** scientists noted the value of probiotic bacteria in calming symptoms, preventing infection and minimizing relapse in those suffering with IBD. Granted, the diseases studied in Sheil’s paper are more pathogenic than IBS but it does seem reasonable that similar benefits can be made available for those who suffer from IBS. The study found that by adding a probiotic bacteria formulation like Vidazorb® Plus to one’s daily health regimen resulted in certain desirable benefits like those mentioned above. So why not take that wild teenage beast in your belly and turn it into a clean, cooperative, responsible young adult? See if Vidazorb® can help you, too.

There are a number of fine websites* that offer help to those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Please take an active role in your health by visiting one or more of these sites and getting involved in a support group. Take the time to help your friends or family understand what you’re going through, too. That will make things easier on everyone.

If you think you might have IBS or are persistently suffering from a gut-related symptom, please visit a doctor. If you have a recurring problem, don’t put it off because it “goes away.” Do yourself a favor and get competent medical advice. The belly you save may be your own!

And try to always remember, “You are what you absorb.”


* IBS Self Help and Support Groups
Compiled by Lindsay Dennis at Little Calumet Holdings, LLC/Vidazorb®

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self Help and Support Group
This is a website dedicated specifically to those with gastrointestinal disorders (as opposed to the previous site, dedicated to support groups), and even has very targeted advertising (toilet paper and digestive medication).  The site also includes support groups for Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, and ulcerative colitis. There are forums dedicated to IBS and women’s health, managing work and school, and dealing with relationships.  In addition to patient led forums, there is an outline on the front page of the site that defines the diagnostic criteria for various gastrointestinal ailments.  Beneath this description are links to IBS forums, IBS blogs, a place to share your IBS story, and IBS penpals, which allows you to make connections with other sufferers near and far.

Daily Strength IBS Support Group
Compiled by Lindsay Dennis at Little Calumet Holdings, LLC/Vidazorb®
This site is one section of the much larger Daily Strength site, which provides platforms for support groups for myriad conditions.  The site contains a message board in which members can pose questions and solicit feedback from the community, as well as links to relevant health blogs, photos, and journal entries.  A sidebar on the bottom right provides a list of treatments for the condition, along with percentages of how frequently a given treatment works, based on votes from community members.  80% of members of the IBS community say that acidophilus is helpful in treating the condition.  Community members are able to set up profiles with personal information, stories, and status updates, and can accumulate friends who can contribute to their ‘hugbook’ when they are in need of moral support.

WebMD IBS support group
This is a member created group about IBS hosted on WebMD.  It includes community discussions and forums, as well as links to articles/sites with advice from professionals.  The membership appears to be fairly substantial.

Help for IBS
This is another site with forums where IBS sufferers can exchange questions and comments about their experiences.  This site has a sort of New Age feel to it, with a sidebar that recommends yoga, tea, and hypnosis as treatments for IBS.  There are also recommended supplements (including probiotics), books, and recipes. This is a somewhat commercial site by comparison with the others.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Support group
This is another forum site for IBS sufferers.  This one is part of supportgroups.com, which aggregates support group forums for many different disorders. The site is mostly sufferers conversing with one another.  There doesn’t appear to be much of a medical/professional presence on the site, and it includes this disclaimer: “The information provided on SupportGroups.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional.”

**Gastrointestinal Microbiology edited by Arthur C. Ouwehand and Elaine E. Vaughn ©2006 by Taylor and Francis, New York, NY; pp. 209-223