pngskoid6aaadede 4fb3 4698 a8f6 684d7786b067sktida48cca56 e6da 484e a814 9c849652bcb3skt2024 03 02T153A14Zske2024 03 03T153A14Zsksbskv2021 08 06sigZKVobp1IMYFn2lN2LF0NfVNaFmsdBxYhkx4wEAcfz

Healing From Within: Naturopathic Approaches to Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Cramping, bloating, constipation, diarrhea—these common gastrointestinal symptoms often accompany other diseases and illnesses, but sometimes, they’re indicative of a health condition all on their own.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a digestive disorder that is poorly understood, often underdiagnosed, and inadequately treated when left in the hands of conventional doctors. Naturopathic doctors, though, know that a multi-faceted treatment plan is needed and are expertly prepared to craft it.

Key Takeaways

  • Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition diagnosed after ruling out all other possibilities.
  • While causes are unknown, IBS triggers include diet, stress, hormones, and microbiome imbalance.
  • The naturopathic approach to IBS modifies your diet, lowers inflammation, and improves your microbiome diversity.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the gastrointestinal system that affects the stomach and intestines.

IBS is most commonly identified through its symptoms pertaining to bowel movements, which can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Those with IBS may have these symptoms but no visible signs of damage or disease within their digestive tract. Because of this, IBS symptoms are often undiagnosed, and the causes of IBS are even less understood.

However, there are four key triggers of IBS symptoms: food, stress, hormones, and dysbiosis.

Many people with IBS find that their symptoms worsen after eating or drinking certain foods and beverages, which may include dairy products, wheat, beans, citrus fruits, cabbage, and carbonated drinks. Often, what is a dietary trigger for one person with IBS may not affect another person—the triggers are unique.

Stress is another common trigger of IBS, with those who have IBS finding that their symptoms are worse or more frequent when they’re undergoing increased stress. Still, while stress may make symptoms worse, it is not the cause of them.

IBS generally affects women more often than men, lending to the theory that female sex hormones play a role in IBS development. In support of this theory is the finding that estrogen dysregulation can create an immune response in the gut, which may cause the characteristic symptoms of IBS.

Finally, a shared characteristic of those with IBS appears to be a reduction in their gut microbiome’s diversity, with one study showing that a greater severity in IBS symptoms was associated with fewer strains of gut flora.

What Causes IBS Symptoms?

Here’s where the challenge lies with IBS; even though someone may be quite ill from IBS, there is no clear pathology for its development. Because of this, IBS is often considered a “disease of exclusion”—it is diagnosed only when all other possible causes have been ruled out.

Without a definitive cause, conventional medicine often falls short, and while a handful of drugs are available to alleviate IBS symptoms, they do not address the root cause of IBS, not in the way that naturopathic doctors can.

Clinical Mechanisms of IBS

When it comes to naturopathic doctors, they like to understand how a disease forms and affects the body, which requires knowledge of the mechanisms behind its actions.

For IBS, the following information is known:

  • Histamine, which is also produced during allergic reactions, is made in the gut. It is thought to contribute to the visceral hypersensitivity of those with IBS.
  • IBS has been associated with low-grade gut inflammation. Additionally, those with IBS have an increase in cytokines, which are inflammatory markers found in the blood and the colon’s lining.
  • IBS can develop after an intestinal infection. It’s thought that this occurs because the infection creates abnormal gastrointestinal mobility and increased contractions in the smooth muscle, possibly as a result of the inflammatory process.

The Naturopathic Approach to Treating IBS

When it comes to IBS, the naturopathic approach is to not just look at the symptoms, but understand what triggers IBS in a specific person and use that information to guide treatment.

Since IBS symptoms are often accompanied by stress, lifestyle challenges, and low mood, a multi-faceted approach can prove immeasurably helpful for those with IBS, and these approaches are the specialty of naturopathic doctors.

The naturopathic approach to treating IBS will take into consideration the following areas:


Diet is a huge consideration for those looking to manage their symptoms, especially since IBS flare-ups are most often connected to eating certain types of foods.

The Low FODMAP diet is one of the most studied diets for use in those with IBS, with FODMAP standing for “fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, and polyols,” which are structural qualities of certain foods. Essentially, the Low FODMAP diet eliminates high fermentable carbohydrate foods, which makes digestion easier.

The low FODMAP diet can be restrictive, though, so many people find success in determining their food sensitivities to narrow down which foods they need to avoid. However, it’s always important to work with a healthcare provider when completing an elimination diet to ensure you don’t develop nutritional deficiencies. Not only can this cause additional symptoms, but it may affect the results of your elimination diet, making you think that you need to avoid more foods than you truly should.

Lower Inflammation

Inflammation is the bane of most diseases, IBS included. Studies have shown that those with IBS have constant low-grade inflammation in their gut mucosa, and neuroinflammation is also thought to play a role. Thus, the goal of IBS treatment is to reduce overall inflammation by avoiding inflammatory triggers and implementing anti-inflammatory habits.

Support the Microbiome

Your microbiome is the star of your gut, thanks to its diverse collection of bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms that, among many other tasks, aid digestion. Since IBS is associated with less diverse microbiomes, fortifying your microbiome is a key focus of naturopathic medicine.

As for what can cause this dysfunction in your microbiome, diet, stress, genetics, and lifestyle can all be to blame; with a naturopathic consultation, we can work to address all areas, supporting your microbiome and setting your gut up for success.

The Importance of Naturopathic Medicine for IBS

Naturopathic doctors offer personalized and holistic treatment that considers your lifestyle, health history, diet, and stress levels when devising a treatment plan. IBS is not a condition that can be treated with medication—it requires a complete lifestyle reevaluation to determine what is triggering IBS symptoms and how it can be avoided in the future.

Naturopathic doctors look at IBS from all possible angles to personalize their treatment plan, not only mitigating your IBS symptoms but also helping you alter your lifestyle so that you can live a life without pain and discomfort.

IBS is a chronic condition, but a naturopathic doctor can help you learn to manage it. Get started today with a naturopathic consultation, and see the difference holistic medicine makes in managing your gastrointestinal symptoms.


Jacenik, D., Cygankiewicz, A. I., Fichna, J., Mokrowiecka, A., Małecka-Panas, E., & Krajewska, W. M. (2018). Estrogen signaling deregulation related with local immune response modulation in irritable bowel syndrome. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 471, 89–96.

Tap, J., Derrien, M., Törnblom, H., Rémi Brazeilles, Stéphanie Cools-Portier, Joël Doré, Stine Störsrud, Boris Le Nevé, Öhman, L., & Magnus Simrén. (2017). Identification of an Intestinal Microbiota Signature Associated With Severity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, 152(1), 111-123.e8.

‌Wouters, M. M., Balemans, D., Van Wanrooy, S., Dooley, J., Cibert-Goton, V., Alpizar, Y. A., Valdez-Morales, E. E., Nasser, Y., Van Veldhoven, P. P., Vanbrabant, W., Van der Merwe, S., Mols, R., Ghesquière, B., Cirillo, C., Kortekaas, I., Carmeliet, P., Peetermans, W. E., Vermeire, S., Rutgeerts, P., Augustijns, P., … Boeckxstaens, G. E. (2016). Histamine Receptor H1-Mediated Sensitization of TRPV1 Mediates Visceral Hypersensitivity and Symptoms in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, 150(4), 875–87.e9.

Lazaridis, N., & Germanidis, G. (2018). Current insights into the innate immune system dysfunction in irritable bowel syndrome. Annals of gastroenterology, 31(2), 171–187.

Kanazawa, M., Palsson, O. S., van Tilburg, M. A., Gangarosa, L. M., Fukudo, S., & Whitehead, W. E. (2014). Motility response to colonic distention is increased in postinfectious irritable bowel syndrome (PI-IBS). Neurogastroenterology and motility, 26(5), 696–704.