Irritable Bowel Syndrome: An Irritating Problem!

Cathy sought out naturopathic medical care for problems with her bowels. Ten years of problems had left her drained and frustrated. She knew where all the public bathrooms were everywhere she went and lived in fear of “accidents”. She suffered from alternating constipation and diarrhea, embarrassing gas, abdominal pain and bloating and she generally felt tired and toxic. Her conventional medical doctor had done tests to rule out cancer or serious disease and labeled her symptom picture Irritable Bowel Syndrome. She was given a variety of medications to counteract her symptoms. Laxatives for constipation, anti-diarrhea medications, antacid pills all helped in the short run, but after 10 years Cathy was no closer to understanding why she felt the way she did or how she could help herself get out of this painful cycle.

Cathy’s case is not unusual. Approximately 15% of the population has Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and many more people experience similar symptoms. IBS is characterized by abdominal pain or bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea, gas, nausea, and is often accompanied by varying degrees of anxiety or depression. Since many other conditions can mimic IBS, it is important to rule out more serious diseases like cancer and colitis.

The naturopathic approach to treatment is very different from the conventional methods because our goal is very different. While conventional medicine treats symptoms with drugs, naturopathic doctors seek to understand why the body is creating these symptoms and correct the underlying imbalance. There are several potential causes of IBS that affect people in varying degrees.

The most common cause of IBS that I have observed clinically is food allergies or intolerances. With proper identification of offending foods and coaching to change the diet, many of my patients have found lasting relief from their symptoms. Another common cause of intestinal distress is a disturbance in the bacteria that line the intestine. Antibiotic use coupled with a high sugar diet can result in an overgrowth of yeast and fungus in the intestine. The result is often gas, bloating and irregular stool, as well as fatigue and other mental symptoms. This condition can be rectified by specific dietary modifications and by working to re-establish the healthy bacterial balance in the intestine.

Often IBS is a result of a poorly functioning upper digestive system. If the stomach lacks adequate hydrochloric acid, foods are not broken down properly and can cause symptoms in the lower digestion. This condition is common as we age. Symptoms to look for of low stomach acid are:

  • Fullness after eating
  • Belching or flatulence after meals
  • Indigestion, constipation or diarrhea
  • Iron deficiency
  • Multiple food allergies
  • Weak fingernails

I have had many patients complain of IBS after having surgery to remove their gall bladder. The gall bladder stores and regulates the secretion of bile, the fluid used to digest fats. The bile is made in the liver but if the liver is toxic, the bile it makes will also be toxic and caustic. The “toxic bile” takes its toll on the gallbladder, and the conventional solution to gall bladder problems is to simply remove it. Now that same “toxic bile” is now able to drip into the intestine in an unregulated fashion. The intestine becomes irritated by the bile and lets us know by presenting with the symptoms we call Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The naturopathic approach to this health challenge is to treat the underlying cause by detoxifying the liver to help it to make better bile.

In Cathy’s case, after a thorough physical exam, we did some blood work and tested her for food allergies and yeast overgrowth. She had taken antibiotics for a series of infections many years ago and had a significant yeast overgrowth. She was allergic to wheat, rye and bananas. She did not have a personal history of gall bladder problems, but her sister and mother had had their gall bladders removed. Cathy was coached on a program to reduce her yeast, change her diet, cleanse her liver and soothe her irritated bowel. With natural medicine alone, she became symptom free for the first time in many years. Not only did her bowels improve, she reported feeling much more energy and mental clarity. She was able to take charge of her health by getting to the root cause of the problem!

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician with a natural family medical practice in downtown Courtenay. Her office can be reached at (250) 897-0235 or via this website

Treating Sinusitis Naturally

In my practice, I have many patients who come for help with chronic sinus congestion. It can be a frustrating and painful condition that can last a lifetime if not treated with the long term in mind. The medicines conventionally used may be okay in the short run, but they have significant issues with long term use. For instance, nasal steroids thin the lining of the nasal mucous, making it more susceptible to bleeding and infection. Fungal infections in the nasal passages are present in 52% of people with chronic sinusitis and are can be caused by long term use of steroid sprays. Antibiotic use creates increased fungal infections throughout the body, including the sinuses and the digestive system.

In treating sinusitis, the goal of naturopathic physicians is to relieve the symptoms using natural medicines (which often have side benefits instead of side effects). In addition to symptom treatment, naturopathic physicians also endeavor to determine the underlying causative factors that are driving this chronic congestion and inflammation. Most patients with sinusitis are aware that they have allergies to inhalants like pollen and dust. However, there may be other factors in one’s health that contribute to the conditions. For instance, in my experience, many of my patients with chronic sinusitis also have bowel problems. There is a link between these two conditions, in that both can be caused by food allergies.

I saw a patient, Rose, who presented with a 15 year history of nasal congestion, reoccurring sinus infections and she also had been diagnoses with “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”. I suggested that we start our treatment by addressing the bowel. We tested her for food allergies through our non-invasive and effective technique called Vega testing. I coached her on how to make dietary changes and how to heal the lining of her intestines. Within a few months, she was delighted to report that not only were her bowels much improved, she was breathing freely for the first time in years. She said, “I realize that after all these years, my chronic sinus inflammation was my body’s way of reacting to wheat”. Of course not all cases are so one dimensional, but a thorough investigation health issues is essential to uncovering the clues that will lead to long term success in treating this condition.

Another often overlooked factor for people with chronic sinus conditions is that unresolved dental issues can result in disease spreading to the sinuses. Patients may not realize that an old dental extraction may be harboring an infection under the healed gum tissue. I have also seen a disturbing number of men with chronic sinus infections and allergies that started shortly after working around excessive amounts of sawdust. The sawdust likely assaults the nasal mucosa, allowing antigens to permeate through it and trigger the immune system to create allergic symptoms. Getting to the bottom of the problem, instead of being satisfied with short-term quick fixes is essential for the patient who wants to improve this condition, once and for all.

There are many layers in the naturopathic treatment of chronic upper respiratory problems. First, we must find ways to help with the immediate symptoms while we are investigating the deeper disturbances in the immune system that are causing the problem. Naturopathic treatments for sinus infections are aggressive and varied. We must focus on reducing the inflammation and congestion that impair circulation and set the stage for bacterial infection. There are effective ways to reduce congestion using herbs, hydrotherapy and nutritional supplements. We also want to address the inflammation of the sinus and nasal passages and bromelaine gives good results. Natural anti-histamines, like nettles and quercitin are nutritious as well as effective alternatives to drugs. Addressing the fungal and bacterial infections often chronically harboured in the upper respiratory passages is essential. Infections are best treated without drugs that damage other organs, but rather natural medicines like oil of oregano, goldenseal or tea tree oil that are gentle and effective.

The real strength of naturopathic medicine is that is addresses the underlying causes of health problems and treats symptoms as the body’s intelligent response to a stress. For sinus problems, the search for underlying factors often leads us to look at food allergies, candida yeast overgrowth in the digestive and respiratory systems, and dental issues. In my clinic, we offer Allergy Desensitization using homeopathic medicines in a fast and effective procedure. Please call for a handout on this topic. Naturopathic doctors also coach their patients on how to build their immune systems through optimal nutrition, herbal, nutritional and homeopathic medicines. The body wants to heal so sometimes we just need to listen to its clues and give it tools to help it succeed.

For more information, or to book a visit to start your personalized program, please contact Dr. Macdonald’s office at (250) 897-0235 or via this website. Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician with a naturopathic family medical practice in downtown Courtenay.