When you’re trying to figure out what caused your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you may be looking for just one trigger, or defining event. However, neither dis-ease, nor healing is usually that simple. Let’s go through a bit of a process here – stay with me, it’s useful, I promise – and then we’ll get the piece about what factors can cause IBS.
Is it possible to heal from gut disorders – even severe IBS (or widespread Crohn’s like I had)? Absolutely, but you need to realize that holistic healing is a long, winding path and there are no quick-fixes or silver bullets (like in drug therapy) that will get you there.
Start with a good foundation
The initial phase of your healing may take the longest and produce the least ‘visible’ results because you have to build your foundation first. You have to start at the roots of your illness and just like building a house, laying the groundwork and pouring the foundation don’t look like much, but they are of crucial importance. For example, let’s say you were born by Caesarean and never received that crucial first implantation of beneficial gut bacteria (as you were squeezed through your mother’s vagina), or your mother did not have much good bacteria to pass onto you. Then perhaps you were given antibiotics, which was never followed by probiotics.
So now, in addition to not having a healthy microbiome in your gut, you’re actually teeming with bad bacteria and yeast (Candida). Treating and resolving such an infection can take anywhere from three months to a year, but once you get that infection under control you’ll see improvement. By the time you completely eradicate that infection, you’ll probably have automatically eliminated your diarrhea, constipation or spastic colon.
You will also have restored the integrity of your intestinal walls, mucosal lining, and bacterial flora throughout your gut. Therefore, your digestive and absorptive abilities will now be up to normal. Because you have treated your whole body holistically, you will most likely have cleared up other health issues as well. By healing your past and present emotional woundings, you will now be creating a job and relationships that support you as a healthy, vibrant person – not as a sick, wounded person.
The holistic path
Remember that stress is a huge component of IBS and anything that causes you stress is not going to help you heal. Therefore, first and foremost, you must always follow your own gut and introduce change at a pace that feels right for you.
This merges all aspects of your body/self and allows you to tread the pathway of healing together – as a multi- dimensional but unified being, with all parts relating to and supporting each other. It releases you from viewing and treating your body or your intestines as something functioning independently of you and your desires.
Subscribing to the medical model will cause you to view the malfunctioning parts of your body with impatience and annoyance, even anger. If you see your body in this manner, you’ll just want to feed it the right pill and have it perform properly, dammit! But your body is not a machine, you can’t separate the parts from the whole. And what place has healing in the midst of anger and resentment?
The causes of IBS
I believe the causative factors of IBS are varied. If you go back over your own personal health history, I think you’ll find a mix of the following damaging events, that singly or in combination have degraded the health of your gut and immune system:
Vaccination – childhood, adult, flu vaccines, etc. Causes direct damage to bacterial flora of the gut and long-term, immune system damage.
Antibiotic Use – any antibiotic therapy that is not followed by full-spectrum probiotic therapy causes lasting, pervasive damage to the bacterial flora of your gastrointestinal tract (from mouth to anus), which in turn leads to increased infestation of yeast, parasites, viruses, bad bacteria and other pathogens. These pathogens degrade the mucosal lining and damage the intestinal wall (symptoms include bloating, gas, inflammation, etc.), which leads to Leaky Gut Syndrome, which then triggers allergic and auto-immune response. Did you know that certain antibiotic drugs can cause ulcerative colitis all by themselves (like Novo Clindamycin)? And the pharmaceutical information that comes with these products even explicitly warns of this. Yet medical doctors continue to prescribe them and also don’t follow usage with probiotics.
Environmental and Food-borne Toxins – processed foods with preservatives, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners and flavors, nitrites and other proven toxins and carcinogens, microwaved foods, chlorine, mercury and other heavy metals, toxins contained in skin care products, shampoos, cosmetics, furniture, carpets, and the air (to name a few sources) all cause cellular and systemic damage. I have an entire chapter on this in Listen To Your IBS and I take you through every room in your house with a checklist.
Emotional Trauma or Abuse – don’t underestimate the damaging effects of abusive or traumatic emotional experiences on the body, and the gut in particular. For some of you, this may be damage from your past that was never resolved/healed, and/or ongoing emotional patterns or experiences that continue to degrade your health daily.
Parasites & Pathogenic Microorganisms – if your gut ecology is already weakened or imbalanced, travel to a foreign country or ingestion of tainted food/water can be the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’. If your bacterial flora is already imbalanced with a deficit of beneficial bacteria, then it’s very easy for parasites, yeast, bad bacteria, or fungus to flourish. These pathogens then degrade the health of your intestinal mucosal lining, which can result in decreased absorption of nutrients, bloating, spasming, inflammation and subsequent damage to your systemic health.
Each of these causative factors – including lesser factors like whether or not you were breastfed, your mother’s health while you were in utero, hereditary/genetic weaknesses, heavy metal levels in your body, mercury amalgam fillings in your teeth, pesticide exposure, etc. – will contribute in varying degrees and combinations to your particular condition.
Different people are susceptible to different factors and something that strongly affects your friend adversely, may only mildly affect you adversely. There is seldom just one factor (pathogen) in isolation that causes IBS. However, I believe each of us is capable of identifying the causative factors of our own ill health and then taking the steps that will be particularly healing to each of us.
You get to choose
You can label and define your own reality using words of positivity within a healing framework that gives you access to positive action. Instead of talking about your illness, you can talk about your healing pathway or your healing journey. This will also help you to start viewing your body as a whole, instead of as separate compartments where the parts and systems of your body function separately and independently.
Your digestive tract is not the isolated “bad” part of your body, it is merely the area where your whole-body imbalance is evidenced, or displayed first. I was once talking to Karen Stewart, the owner of NutritionWorks health store in Scottsdale, Arizona, and she said, “All illness is simply an opportunity for growth. It’s the body pointing out what you need to work on next. And the body uses the strongest parts of itself to deliver the message.” I stared at her, fascinated, as the realization of what she was saying gradually grew in me.
“Well think about it,” she said, “the body wouldn’t use its weakest part to give you the message, it wouldn’t risk its life like that, it’s going to use the strongest part.” I found her words very empowering. Instead of viewing your gut as the weak part of your body, where illness shows up first, you can view it as the strongest part of your body, willing to sacrifice itself for your growth and understanding. Regarding your gastrointestinal tract in this manner will also foster a spirit of teamwork within you and gratitude towards your gut for offering itself up for your growth and development. In her fantastic book, Mutant Message Down Under, Marlo Morgan writes:
“The Real People tribe believes that we are not random victims of ill health, that the physical body is the only means our higher level of eternal consciousness has to communicate with our personality consciousness. Slowing down the body allows us to look around and analyze the really important wounds we need to mend: wounded relationships, gaping holes in our belief system, walled-up tumors of fear, eroding faith in our Creator, hardened emotions of unforgiveness, and so on.”
When I first began healing myself, I found my healing required equal attention and resolution of both physical and emotional/spiritual/mental issues. However, I’m now at the point in my Healing Journey where symptoms I experience are rarely related to my physical body at all, but rather they are just messages, or indicators of something I need to resolve emotionally or spiritually.
As soon as I address the emotional component – for example, resolve a conflict, forgive someone, connect with and share my deepest feelings with a loved one, speak my truth, say ‘no’ where I need to, etc. – the physical symptom instantly disappears, with no physical intervention necessary.
I’ve also noticed that my body will first give me a feeling, or intuition. If I explore that and connect with my deeper self (or higher/spiritual self), and take appropriate action, the issue is resolved there. However, if I don’t, my body will then give me a mild symptom. If I ignore this, a stronger symptom, or escalation of that same symptom will occur, and so on with increasing ramifications in my physical body until I finally stop, connect with my body and my higher self (or subconscious) and receive the message or follow the pathway of emotional/spiritual healing that needs to take place. As soon as I do this, the symptom begins to heal/resolve and in many cases disappears instantly – unless I’ve allowed things to escalate to the point where physical healing is also necessary.
I invite you to examine each of these causative factors for IBS (from infancy onwards), along with all your emotional/spiritual contributors and then offer gratitude to your precious gut; for sticking with you, not giving up, and trying its best to bring you into wholeness.
Original post March 2017. Most recently updated June 2020.