The Real Cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Got the “I-look-6-months-pregnant-IBS-blues?” I hear you. The severe bloating that can sometimes accompany IBS is no joke. It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing, and sort of terrifying! It feels like you ate a pretty normal meal, but yet your distended abdomen tells a different story—a scary, sci-fi movie kind of story.


And it seems the responses to this symptoms are 1 of 3 from doctors and friends/family:

  1. You’re just stressed

  2. Maybe it’s something you ate (well duh!)

  3. Try this…. (antacid, antibiotic, laxative, fill in the blank…) It’s fine! (Do I need to say it’s not “fine” to need a laxative or anti-diarrheal—that means something is WRONG.)

Why is bloating such a mystery?!

Well, honestly it’s not, with the right testing and tools.


How to Demystify IBS

A common cause of bloating and IBS symptoms is SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) for which some GI docs can/will order testing. It is usually a breath test, and should ideally measure both methane and hydrogen gas levels produced as a result of drinking a glucose formula and breathing into a bag. Note, if you are offered an antibiotic without testing, it may help to temporarily relieve IBS symptoms, but without proper follow-up, recurrence levels are very high. There’s a reason SIBO snuck in in the first place, so it’s important to see the whole picture and finish the process to prevent the dreaded bloat from returning.

A comprehensive stool test can also save years of struggling by identifying the source(s) of IBS symptoms.


There are many companies, and most tests will measure:

  • infection markers (more common than you think!),

  • probiotic/prebiotic levels (how the badness started),

  • inflammation markers (from food, infection,

  • or other irritants),

  • and several digestive markers (also how badness gets in and makes symptoms worse).

Note this is not typically a test that a traditional insurance-based physician can/will order. Only a functional practitioner is trained to order and interpret it. (P.S. that’s what we are - functional practitioners!)


Typical Plan for IBS from Carolina Functional Nutrition

Since it’s based on the results of an individual test, the plan to address IBS can be a little different for everyone, but my typical plan consists of:

  • digestive support (depending on protein, fat, carbohydrate digestion markers)

  • liver support (liver congestions/sluggishness inhibits detoxification and elimination)

  • low FODMAP and/or other elimination diet (this is temporary people—not a long-term solution-- but it is very helpful to initially get symptoms under control).

  • sometimes a probiotic (yes, not all the time as probiotics can sometimes aggravate certain IBS triggers)

  • sometimes a plant/herbal extract to address infection/dysbiosis

Remember, when living with IBS,

IBS is not always easy, but it is simple in terms of first steps. Decide enough is enough and connect with a functional practitioner who works with IBS frequently and can order stool and/or SIBO breath testing. The tests literally provide a roadmap of how to address the issue(s) contributing to IBS symptoms. The order in which the products are used makes a difference, so again, make it a priority to work with a qualified functional dietitian or physician who can help. Remember, it takes time to see long-term changes, but significant relief from IBS can be just around the corner!


You can gain further support from Carolina Functional Nutrition by booking a consultation, here.