What follows is my experience with IBS and the regime I came up with to treat it. This treatment may not work for you and moreover, you may not have only IBS. As much as I have disdain for doctors when it comes to IBS, you do need to medically rule out any more severe issues before you start treating your IBS.
I have suffered with IBS off and on for 10+ years now. It all started innocently in 2003 when I was under a bit of stress but stress I felt I would have normally been able to handle. Even so, my stomach went off, and the more off it went, the more stressed I became and off went the vicious cycle so common to IBS sufferers and so hard for non-IBS sufferers to understand. (The enteric and central nervous systems formed together and it turns out that the stomach sends far more information to the brain than vice versa. Thus an upset stomach can easily upset the mind.)
Concurrently, I had a sinus infection which led me to take Advil at night without food. Advil (ibuprofen) is a COX-II inhibitor. COX-II is the enzyme responsible for inflammation in the body. For some unlucky people such as myself, it appears that ibuprofen also manages to inhibit COX-I which lays down your intestinal lining. There was no warning on the box at the time. No one believed me when I researched the answer. Several years later, the FDA issued a warning:
NSAIDs incr. risk of serious and potentially fatal GI adverse events incl. bleeding, ulcer, and stomach or intestine perforation; GI events may occur at any time during use and w/o warning sx; elderly pts at greater risk for serious GI events
My first visit to my GP lasted 10 minutes and I left with a prescription for Pantoloc(Pantoprazole) (an acid suppressor) and Celexa (an anti depressant). My physician didn’t mention what he was giving me, he just told me to take it and I’d be fine within a week. I wasn’t.
Later research would reveal that acid suppressors such as Pantoloc which are in the family of PPI’s (Proton Pump Inhibitors) cause mineral and vitamin malabsorption syndromes that would plague me for the next 10+ years. Celexa was a huge disaster which sent me straight ’round the bend.
I went through batteries of tests, many of which were quite uncomfortable. The worst of these tests was a gastroscopy. This is a procedure where a ‘thin’ tube is inserted down the throat or through the nose to see what is going on in the stomach. When I read the patient preparation leaflet, it mentioned I’d be given a cocktail of drugs whereby gagging would be ‘reduced’ (not eliminated). When I came out of that procedure, I told my parents, who had accompanied me, that if it came down to a choice between that procedure or death, I would choose death. I stuck to it too: Dr’s were eager over the years to repeat the test for the fun of it and I denied them.
Over the years, different cocktails were tried, all with minimal success. My main symptom, despite the other horrid general symptoms of IBS was nausea. I was nauseated around the clock. It made eating in public impossible and eating in general was quite difficult.
As physicians became tired of seeing me in their office and as I grew more and more tense and nervous dealing with a debilitating syndrome for which there was no treatment or support, Doctors because pulling the ‘mind’ card. “It was in my mind”. We all experience stress and it’s the easiest thing to blame a condition on. No one but a monk can deny they’re under stress.
The cruelest thing you can do to a person with a legitimate medical condition that the condition exists solely in their mind. I know, from personal experience, that the patient will expend inordinate amounts of effort trying to control the condition with their mind to no avail, dropping them further and further into a morass of hopelessness and infirmity.
It was in the spring of 2014 (11 years after the initial onset) that I was able to rule out the assertion that my problems existed solely in my mind. Things were working well for me. My job was stable and I was getting out in the spring, enjoying the great outdoors and was taking my daughter on 5 hour canoe trips on the Grand River.
Here I am with my daughter on our canoe trip. I was eagerly planning more adventures for the family when my stomach started to go ‘funny’ on me again. It always starts mildly and then seems to escalate out of control. First the nausea sets in, then a loss of appetite, and then general digestive disturbances set in followed by severe stomach pains and digestive issues.
This time, I was convinced it was not in my head. I was looking forward to the rest of the summer adventuring in Ontario’s outdoors and was not under inordinate stress. So I set about treating my stomach and not my head.
1) On a chance visit to the local pharmacy, I noticed a new probiotic supplement. I’ve been on probiotics but this one was quite different. It was approved by Health Canada to prevent C. difficile (the worst possible infection you can get, difficile is French for ‘difficult’) and I figured if it could tackle that, it could tackle my problems. I took the Soy formulation because I couldn’t handle dairy.
This probiotic contains fermented soy (hence live bacteria) and it delivered 50 billion CFU’s (Colony Forming Units). I could feel it working but remember, your gut contains 10’s of trillions of bacteria and you’re treating it with 50 billion bacteria. Ie, this would be a war of attrition and wouldn’t work overnight.
2) I have long known that l-glutamine is useful in rebuilding the stomach lining. I found a newer product which contained a high amount of it. The supplement called for taking 7 pills a day. I took for in the morning and 3 at night. I felt that 7 at once might be a bit jarring to my system.
http://www.renewlife.ca/products/intestinew/ (comes in pill or powder, this link is for the powder, I took the pills)
3) Liposomal B12
The only test result that showed anything out of the ordinary was a low B12 level (way back in 2003). B12 is a very difficult vitamin to assimilate. It’s a multistep process involving complicated things like Intrinsic Factor. In my research I learned that many people with stomach problems just don’t absorb this vitamin well. To get B12, you can circumvent your digestive system by taking it sublingually (under the tongue). Even so, I didn’t find any real advantage to B12 supplementation over the years of my illness. Finally, I came across a liposomal formulation. A liposomal encapsulation by passes the digestive system and delivers B12 directly to the cells by encapsulating them in the same thing that cell membranes are made of. With this supplement I finally noticed a difference. When I added this supplement, my energy levels started to rise, my appetite was restored and I was returning to health.
In an unrelated visit to my doctor’s office (I’d given up discussing my stomach with Doctors) I noticed a brochure for Buscopan. It is an antispasmodic which calms the stomach and stops the grinding and churning. When I asked my doctor about it he said: “Oh yeah, that stuff is fine if you like… just don’t take it for long”. I checked with the company and several pharmacists who said that there was no problem taking this stuff long term. Also, upon taking it, my stomach churning stopped and my nausea alleviated which was a relief after suffering from it for years. The product is a derivative of an Australian tree (Duboisia hopwoodii) and has been around for 50 years:
This tablet offered tremendous relief. While it doesn’t treat the cause, it does alleviate the symptoms sufficiently to allow your body and your supplements time to work. I was shocked that no one of the 3 gastroenterologists, 2 family doctors, and a host of naturopaths and other para-medical professionals hadn’t told me of it. I didn’t end up needing to take it long term. A few simple pills during an outbreak was sufficient.
4) Digestive Enzymes
When your stomach is in turmoil, it often is incapable of producing the enzymes required to digest food. What ends up happening is food sits undigested further aggravating your condition. With every meal, during the acute phase I took digestive enzymes.
Within 3 weeks of using all 4 treatments concurrently, I returned to health. I was relieved because the suffering was so bad that I was considering leaving my job or having to go on disability. To this day, I can’t guarantee you that the condition will never return, but I can say that I have been living without it for 6 months now.
My maintenance routine is BioKPlus by night and an IBS support supplement I take (http://www.canprev.ca/products/digestion_ibs). I take buscopan as needed and occasionally Immodium (http://www.imodium.com/) if I feel an outbreak coming on. I also very occasionally need to take Dramamine (Gravol in Canada) or I take Cocculine, a homeopathic anti-nauseant.
I’m still somewhat afraid to eat in public because I don’t’ know how my stomach will be on any given night. I’m still undoing the damage done by the medical community to my psyche and my body. I’m still on several pharmaceuticals which are hard to come off of which I went on as a result of my IBS.
I can’t guarantee that my IBS will never return. Indeed, if put under sufficient stress, it very well may, but at least this time I have a plan of attack in my pocket to get me back on the straight and narrow as soon as possible.
If you’re suffering from IBS, first off, my heart goes out to you. Believe me, I understand what you’re going through. I’d love to tell you that you don’t need to see a doctor but that would be foolhardy and dangerous. What if, indeed, you do have some stomach condition which warrants medical attention. If your doctor is stumped, and you start to ride the medical roller coaster, do shop around and see if you can find a physician with any understanding of IBS. Failing that, you will need to do your own research and find combinations of alternative medicines and/or treatments which work for you. The recipe that worked for me, may not work for you.
Personally I’d love to open a clinic treating IBS but I have only a B.Sc. in Biology to my name and there wouldn’t be any money in it given that I’m only using off the shelf products. Thus, I’m left back at my day job but hoping that I can help as many people not lose 10 years of their life dealing with this plague resulting from the ignorance of the medical community.