I have worked in conjunction with medical practitioners on and off for many years and, when required, have referred patients with chronic gastrointestinal distress to gastroenterologists for an initial bowel screen to rule out anything obvious, such as a polyp, stricture, prolapse, diverticulitis, hemorrhoid or possibly even bowel cancer.
All too often, though, the person would come back with the diagnosis of NAD (no abnormal diagnosis) – nothing abnormal, no diseases, just “irritable bowel syndrome” (IBS), and the recommendation that they should make dietary changes, increase fiber in their diet and use psyllium hulls. In most such instances, these changes brought the patient very little relief.
One of my favourite writers is Dr. Liz Lipsky Ph.D, author of “Digestive Wellness”, Liz states that in irritable bowel syndrome, there are four main causes:
1. Infection (yeasts, bacteria, parasites)
3. Food allergies and food intolerances
I once heard Dr. Alan Gaby say (past-president of the American Holistic Medical Association) that he calls irritable bowel syndrome a “garbage can diagnosis”; and that most medical doctors just go and dump people in there when they can’t figure their health problems out, and hope that somebody else will collect them and take them and their health problems away with them. It doesn’t sound very nice, and I can assure you that not all doctors would do this, but the reality for many practitioners when faced with a patient who has IBS is to simply refer them on or to prescribe them a drug after a ten minute consultation.
This is very much like a patient who presents to a doctor with a pain in her behind which eventually turns out to be a thumbtack, and the doctor calls it “thumb tack disease” and promptly prescribes paracetamol for this painful disease with no known cause. Why don’t we get the patient to pull that thumb tack out of her behind by figuring out where she sat down at the time of the thumb tack problem?
My concerns are that some practitioners who are consulted by patients with digestive disorders have little or no understanding, nor training, in functional digestive complaints such as candida albicans, food allergies, leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome. “You have nothing wrong with your digestive system that we can find” is what is typically said to the patient. Candida is a condition often caused by antibiotics – some of the most common drugs prescribed by medical practitioners.
I have several medical colleagues in both Australia and New Zealand who now can recognize and treat candida effectively, but unfortunately this number is only a fraction in comparison to the many orthodox medical doctors who believe that anything but orthodox Western medicine is absolute quackery.
You have to be the judge of this yourself, but it has always been my belief as a naturopath that it makes good sense to make the correct lifestyle and diet changes first, which assist in the healing of your digestive system well before opting for any drugs or surgery. In other words, the cause needs to be addressed.
Having worked in different medical and natural medicine clinics over the years, I have had the opportunity first hand to observe many chronically sick patients, and most have had some degree of dysbiosis and/or candida yeast infections.
The candida yeast infection was not always the primary cause of their chronic ill health; rather it came along and developed in a stressed digestive system, as part of their lowered resistance, and had likely contributed in some way to the very illness itself. I have found that by working with the chronically sick patient and helping them improve their gut function, it is possible to turn the case around, but it can become difficult when there is a diagnosable condition, particularly sophisticated pathology.
If the irritable bowel disease has not been treated satisfactorily in the first place, then it may actually be of an advantage to me, because the patient and doctor have no clear approach to adopt to alleviate the patient’s health issues, and in case a patient has not reacted effectively to any prior treatment, they may well be significantly more ready to accept making alterations to their diet and lifestyle, to see if their health can change for the better. The more compromised their digestive health and affected their lifestyle has become, the higher the degree of motivation they will have to want to make the right changes and the better the compliance will be. In the event the examination is clear-cut but, then in some cases the affected person could possibly be interested in solely dealing with the symptoms of the ailment alone, instead of focusing on any underlying causes.
The drawback, unfortunately, is that the longer a person has been unwell with IBS, the greater the chance that some other pathology (disease) will develop, and often silently in the background. It may take much longer to achieve that turn-around to great health the person is looking for, and when this is the case, compliance will not be that great and drugs and surgery may be a better option, especially if a great deal of pain or pathology is present.
Not what you expected me to say, but patients want to have a full range of options open to them if they are really sick, and they should too. That’s what integrative medicine should be all about, the best of both worlds.