Thursday, June 14, 2012

Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Causes, Diet & Cures

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects about 20% of Americans nationwide – a number that demands some attention. This gastro intestinal disease can be extremely uncomfortable and once diagnosed, be prepared to live with IBS for the rest of your life. It usually occurs in adults under 35 and is more common with women than men. Since it’s a lifelong condition it’s best to be aware of the causes, symptoms and cures.

The biological cause behind it all is a lack of communication between the nerves in your bowels and your brain that results in dysfunction of the gastro intestinal muscles. But what causes this lack of communication in the nervous system? Although it’s officially unknown there is strong speculation about some possible catalysts. Even though these are not scientifically proven, they definitely deserve an honorable mention:

  • Stress
  • Food allergies
  • Hormone changes (like menopause, for example)
  • Genetics
  • Many cases develop after gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
  • Poor diet (processed, high sugar foods)

As you can see, many of these Irritable Bowel Syndrome causes can be avoided and isn’t it worth it to possibly save you a painful condition for the rest of your life? If you cut out what you can, chances are evading a case of IBS won’t be the only positive outcome you experience.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome pain can be extremely uncomfortable but manageable once diagnosed so it’s best to stay alert for symptoms. The indicators below can range from somewhat unpleasant to severely painful:

  • Change in frequency of bowel movements whether less frequent or more frequent (diarrhea or constipation)
  • Change in stool consistency
  • Abdominal distension or bloating
  • Gassiness

Other symptoms that should be mentioned but can also be caused by a disease other than IBS: Bloody stool, nausea, fever, weight loss.

If you’re still not sure since the symptoms listed above might seem a bit vague or general it’s a good rule of thumb to pay attention to any abdominal discomfort relating to bowel movements; especially when they occur at least 2-3 times per week for a period of two months or more. If this is the case consult a medical specialist and test for other non-functional diseases first. Those are more important and easier to diagnose. Once other conditions have been ruled out only then can IBS be diagnosed.

Diet & Cures
It’s obvious Irritable Bowel Syndrome isn’t a pleasant experience to endure. The good news is there are many ways to control symptoms and “flare ups” to make it a very manageable condition. Listed below are some good guidelines to follow and make your life as IBS-free as possible:

  • Stay away from caffeine!!
  • Drink lots and lots of water
  • Pay attention to food allergies and sensitivities; especially lactose intolerance
  • Avoid alcohol, soda, dairy products, high sugar and fatty foods (processed foods), and vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts which can increase gassiness
  • Eat smaller meals at a slower pace throughout the day as opposed to inhaling a few large meals
  • Consume food high in dietary fiber
  • Incorporate natural beneficial bacteria into your daily regimen. Look for a gentle, organic liquid probiotic that is dairy, wheat, and soy-free.
  • Low stress lifestyle – can’t emphasize this enough. Try yoga, breathing exercises, a massage, etc. - whatever helps you wind down.
  • Maintain active physical fitness levels

The triggers for IBS can often vary from person to person so monitor your occurrences to narrow down the possible causes and prevent them.

Does any of this advice look familiar? It’s just another example of what a huge impact a healthy diet and active lifestyle can have on your overall health. Practice any number of the guidelines laid out above and your body will thank you later, IBS or not.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease (aka sprue, nontropical prue, gluten intolerance, & gluten-sensitive enteropathy) is a reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, oats and similar grains. The reaction results in damage to the lining of the small intestine, which not only induces uncomfortable physical symptoms but also prevents the digestive system from absorbing important nutrients, leading to significant health issues. Individuals suffering from untreated celiac disease will eventually suffer from malnutrition no matter how much nutritious food they consume.

What causes celiac disease?
Celiac disease is essentially the result of gluten sensitivity within the intestines. The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, but its affects are well documented. The small intestine is lined with areas known as villi, which are critical to the absorption of nutrients. When a gluten intolerant person consumes gluten, the immune system reacts by attacking the villi. The result is damaged intestinal lining that does not efficiently absorb nutrients. Celiac disease can develop in individuals of any age, from infancy to adulthood. It is most commonly observed in women as well as Caucasians and those of European decent.

Celiac Disease Symptoms
Symptoms can vary widely and can be attributed to other factors, making diagnosing celiac disease very difficult. The more common symptoms include:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Decreased or increased appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss and fatigue
  • Indigestion and abdominal pain
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constant or intermittent diarrhea
  • Joint pain and muscle cramps
  • Bruising, hair loss and itchy skin
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Mouth ulcers and nose bleeds
  • Missed menstruation
  • Seizures

Because celiac disease can lead to significant vitamin deficiencies, the condition can also affect the brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other important organs. Adults with celiac disease are also more predisposed to develop autoimmune disorders, intestinal cancer, type 1diabetes, thyroid disease, bone disease, anemia, hypoglycemia, infertility, and liver disease.

Children with celiac disease display additional symptoms including delayed puberty, issues with tooth enamel and color, irritable behavior, growth delays and poor weight gain.

Treating Celiac Disease
If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, your physician will recommend that you follow a gluten-free diet that eliminates all wheat, barley, rye, and oats. By removing gluten from your diet, you allow the intestinal villi to heal. For children this typically takes 3 to 6 months, while adults may take up to three years to completely heal depending on the level of damage. Once healed, your digestive system will once again be able to absorb the necessary nutrients and reducing or eliminating the unpleasant side effects. Some symptoms such as stunted growth / height and tooth damage are not reversible.

It is not enough, however, to simply avoid gluten. Many physicians recommend that you also pay close attention to over-all intestinal health. Limit dairy, preservatives, and items that may trigger indigestion such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, thick sauces, and fried foods. It is also helpful to introduce a gentle liquid probiotic into the diet to ensure that the gut is populated with the required beneficial microorganisms. Likewise, ensure that your diet is diverse, filled with nutrient rich “super foods” – especially vegetables – that have not been processed.