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Autonomic Dysfunction Series: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

For the last 10 years, Michael Rothman MD has been treating patients for conditions related to autonomic dysfunction. Dysautonomia is a term used to describe a condition where your autonomic nervous system is dysfunctioning. Dysautonomia literally means dysfunctional autonomic nervous system. Every human being on Earth, at some point in time, will suffer from varying degrees of dysautonomia, yet this disorder is virtually unknown and unrecognized. We have an unseen or hidden epidemic of autonomic dysfunction and one way to combat this common, health-sapping condition is to bring awareness to this ubiquitous problem. For this reason, Michael Rothman MD will be releasing a series of blogs related to various manifestations of dysautonomia in hopes that patients suffering from these disorders will be armed with more information and follow a healthy path to get to the root cause of their chronic symptoms.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

If you suffer from dysautonomia then you may be experiencing a myriad of Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) related symptoms, one of them being digestive problems, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome(IBS). Below are some quick use facts about IBS, but if you would like a more comprehensive discussion, please feel free to read our IBS and IBD pages, or a recent blog entitled A Holistic Approach to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS, is name given to a group of symptoms that affect your bowels including your large intestine or colon. IBS is considered a functional disorder that has no known biological cause and therefore, there are no diagnostic tests available to identify this common condition. IBS will not show up on an x-ray or CAT scan, nor can it be detected during a colonoscopy or endoscopy. IBS is a diagnosis “given” to a patient to describe their symptoms and is considered to be a “diagnosis of exclusion”, when pathological diseases have been “ruled out”. Conversely, bowel problems that are considered to be pathological disorders such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, do reveal evidence of disease (pathology) upon diagnostic testing. These inflammatory bowel disorders can be seen on CAT scans, and both colonoscopies and pathological tissue can be identified when a biopsy sample is reviewed under the microscope.

What Causes IBS?

Because IBS is a “diagnosis of exclusion” and is therefore a general diagnosis, subtypes of IBS have been recognized and there are now various classifications of IBS. Most medical “experts” recognize that there are three types of IBS, IBS with diarrhea, IBS with constipation, and finally IBS with alternating diarrhea and constipation. The reality is that these various classifications are merely more detailed descriptions of a syndrome that “has no cause”.

The real root cause of most cases of IBS is autonomic dysfunction and is the result of a dysfunction to your autonomic nervous system (ANS). If your autonomic nervous system is not stable, then your bowel functions will also be unstable leading to a myriad of gastrointestinal dysfunction and gastrointestinal symptoms. Your ANS controls various functions in your body and is made up of two opposing branches: your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The main purpose of your ANS is to help you cope with stressful and harsh environments and keep your bodily functions operating normally. However, your ANS can become dysfunctional if over stressed.  Over activity of your SNS (better known as your “fight or flight” response) reduces your bowel activity and can lead to symptoms of constipation as well as abdominal pain, gas, and bloating. Under the influence of your SNS, your nervous system thinks that you are in a stressful, life threatening situation, your “fight or flight” response kicks in and significantly down regulates your food digestion, and bowel activity. Your parasympathetic system, on the other hand, helps you digest food and increases your bowel activity. When you have instability in your ANS (autonomic dysfunction), your nervous system activity swings back and forth (like a pendulum) shifting from your SNS (causing indigestion, heartburn, constipation and other symptoms) to your parasympathetic system (causing indigestion, bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramps, and other symptoms). Excessive stressors such as poor quality diet, unrecognized food and environmental allergies, hormonal imbalances, stressful lifestyle, medications and other stressors may trigger volatility in your ANS.

The relationship between Autonomic Dysfunction and IBS

If you are suffering from various digestive problems (like an irritable bowel), your first inclination is to try to discover the root cause of your digestive issues. You may go to your doctor who may then refer you to a Gastroenterologist (specialist in gastrointestinal problems). This GI specialist will most likely run you through a battery of tests seeking to identify a pathological cause of your GI problems. If all the tests are normal, your doctor will declare that you have IBS and may recommend some sort of symptomatic treatment. Therefore, if you have IBS with constipation, you may be offered drugs to enhance your bowel activity. On the other hand, if you have IBS with diarrhea, you may be prescribed medications to slow down your bowel activity. If you have IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhea, good luck!  What most patients (and doctors) don’t understand is that your irritable bowel syndrome is most likely the result of autonomic dysfunction.

What Other Symptoms Can be Caused by Autonomic Dysfunction?

A malfunctioning ANS can lead many, many different symptoms including “irritable bladder”, postnasal drip, hypoglycemia, high blood pressure, headaches, and fatigue. Another recognized ANS related syndrome is named POTS (paroxysmal orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). This debilitating condition manifests as episodes of low pressure and fast heart beats (tachycardia) when you stand up. POTS (not so coincidentally) is also “associated with” other symptoms like IBS, fatigue, headaches, and irritable bladder.  The bottom line is that if your ANS is dysfunctioning, you will suffer from a host of various symptoms and ailments. To make matters worse, your doctor may be unable to determine the underlying cause of your problems and offer you any lasting solutions other than symptomatic treatments. By far, the best way to treat your dysautonomia, IBS, and POTS is by finding and eliminating (or at least reducing) the stressors that led to your problem in the first place. This requires an intelligently applied holistic approach.

What is a Natural Approach to Dysautonomia, IBS, and POTS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a complex disorder involving multiple systems in your body, including your autonomic nervous system, your hormonal systems and your immune system. Therefore, the only rational means for IBS help is to take a holistic approach toward your treatment. Firstly, Dr. Rothman will require that you to come in for a consultation to check you for functional metabolic and autonomic nervous system imbalances that are underlying your problems. Subsequently, laboratory tests (checking for subtle hormonal and body chemistry imbalances) will be performed. Dr. Rothman will analyze your diet to assure that you are not subjecting yourself to stressful eating practices – recently identified and named as “Edibolic Stress”. Edibolic stressors include excess carbohydrates, sugars, vegetable oils, burnt and processed meats, fried foods, pesticides, insecticides and other food additives. Incorporating a balanced diet of wholesome, organic vegetables, meats and other healthy foods can drastically reduce your autonomic dysfunction and hence ameliorate your IBS symptoms. 
If you’re suffering from IBS symptoms or other manifestations of autonomic dysfunction, you will benefit from a metabolically directed approach to wellness that integrates an individualized eating plan as well as a personalized supplementation regimen designed to restore balance to your autonomic nervous system and your whole body.  

At Michael Rothman MD, we have significant experience with dysautonomia, IBS, POTS, and other autonomic nervous system related dysfunction. We can help guide you via Dr. Rothman’s Metabolically Directed Wellness methods. Come in for a consultation with Dr. Rothman by calling, 732-268-7663 and discover a unique road to wellness today.

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