This is an excerpt from a recent interview by Celeste Cooper, RN, with the IBS Treatment Center’s Dr. Stephen Wangen.
It is the opinion of this interviewer, Celeste Cooper, RN, that irritable bowel syndrome is a comorbid condition to many immune disorders. In my interview with Dr. Wangen, I found what he had to say very interesting, and I think you will too.
Dr. Stephen Wangen, ND and the IBS Treatment Center have a mission to provide the best care possible for irritable bowel syndrome. He says, “You not only look at symptoms, you have to look for the cause of the problem and, most drugs are only designed to treat symptoms.”
So Dr. Wangen:
How do you determine need?
Anyone suffering from a digestive problem needs to seek help from someone who is focused on solving IBS. Digestive problems should not be unpredictable. In fact, they shouldn’t happen at all except on rare occasions.
Can you share a few of the causes you have found in IBS?
There are so many causes. One of the advantages of specializing in this area is the ability to sort through those and determine which are relevant for each patient. The digestive tract is a fascinating ecosystem that contains 100 trillion bacteria and a majority of our immune system. The health of this environment plays a role in the development of food intolerances, food allergies, and food sensitivities, all of which must be assessed. It also is impacted by everything we ingest, and it has the potential to be affected by yeast overgrowth (Candida), parasites, and even stress. All of these play a role in leaky gut syndrome, which is another aspect of digestive health. I have seen patients with food allergies that they never even imagined possible, such as to cane sugar, and people with yeast or parasites that had been completely missed. But most patients have several factors negatively affecting their digestion all at the same time. That is why it is often challenging to figure out by yourself.
Why did you decide to start a center based solely on treatment of IBS?
I once suffered from IBS. When I saw doctors, they had no idea why I had my symptoms. They made guesses and nothing helped. I was told that it was stress and labeled it as IBS. That didn’t leave me with any more knowledge than when I first started. I already knew that my bowel irritated me. As I began to see patients, I became more focused on finding the cause of digestive problems, and then I became more successful at helping patients. Ironically, it usually isn’t stress that causes the problem, but IBS that causes the stress!
How many patients do you see with IBS?
I’ve seen around 4,000 IBS patients.
What is your most difficult type of IBS to treat?
There are many different types of IBS, but they all involve one or more of the following symptoms: diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, or bloating. I can’t say that one is more complicated than the other. The symptoms only tell me that something is wrong.
As a naturopathic doctor, do you use integrative therapies such as, manual therapies, acupuncture, trigger point therapies, meditation, or nutritional changes?
My goal has always been to solve IBS, not adhere to a medical philosophy. All of the things that you mentioned have value, sometimes even prescription medications. However, all of these treatment modalities are a lot more effective when used in the right ways for right person by assessing each patient individually. At the IBS Treatment Center, we focus on trying to find the cause of the problem. There are many assessment tools including unique labs for testing the environment of the bowel and its effect on the body. They are not all created equal. We test the labs, use different labs in different situations, and we apply various treatments based on what works best for each individual.
Can you tell us a bit more about what you are looking for with lab results?
Lab results help us develop our priorities. A good lab will properly identify the correct food intolerance, for example. And a highly specialized parasite lab will find parasites that other labs miss. However, even lab work has its limitations. Many aspects of what we do have come from years of clinical experience. Sometimes experience and listening to your patient is more valuable than lab work. We combine both to get the best results possible.
What can the patient expect as an active participant in the treatment protocol?
Anyone who thinks that health can be handed to you from someone else is gravely mistaken. Patients often need to make dietary changes, but these are targeted changes based on each patient’s lab results. If patients are willing to participate in their plan, they have a very good chance of getting better.
Do you consider gluten to be an irritant to the bowel and do you feel this is true for ALL IBS patients?
Gluten intolerance is just one of many possible irritants involved in IBS. It may or may not be a factor for an individual. Determination is based on what we find with the patient’s lab results. An anti-inflammatory diet is suggested for arthritis and autoimmune disorders.
What are your thoughts on suggesting it for IBS patients?
Inflammation is produced by the immune system and the immune system must be triggered to turn it on. Different foods will turn on inflammation in different people. A successful anti-inflammatory diet is about identifying the specific triggers in each individual. There is no one size fits all anti-inflammatory diet, but there is an anti-inflammatory diet for each patient.
Dr. Stephen Wangen is the award winning author of two books on solving digestive disorders, and a nationally recognized speaker on IBS. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio. He was recently named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.