- What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
- My Experience With IBS From Childhood to Adulthood
- How I Cured Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Almost Overnight)
- My Search for an IBS Cure Continued
- How I Permanently Cured IBS
- 6 Steps You Can Take Cure Your IBS Symptoms
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Wrap-Up: When It Comes to IBS, Managing the Symptoms Doesn’t Fix the Problem
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a catch-all term for gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhea and erratic bowel movements. IBS can last for months or even years, thus dramatically reducing the quality of life for those affected.
My dad has suffered from IBS since he was a kid. I did as well, until I finally figured out what was causing it.
In this article, I’ll share my experience with chronic gut issues and explain the simple lifestyle change I introduced that made my IBS symptoms disappear within a few days.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. Signs and symptoms of IBS include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both. IBS is a chronic condition that you’ll need to manage long term.”
Depending on the individual symptoms, IBS can be divided into several subtypes, including IBS-C, IBS-D and IBS-M.
The truth is that IBS is a phrase that describes symptoms that aren’t caused by any of the other known inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as colitis, Crohn’s disease and ulcers.
In other words, if your healthcare provider can’t determine what’s causing your issues, they’ll call it IBS. At least, that’s what happened in my case.
My Experience With IBS From Childhood to Adulthood
When I was a kid, my dad was always eating something different than the rest of the family. He claimed he was sensitive to many of the foods we grew up with in Austria, like dairy, veggies, legumes and most grains.
One day, he even flipped over a casserole my mom made for him because it had onions in it — one of the veggies that triggered his symptoms. I don’t know for sure, but I believe my mom felt like he was making up most of his symptoms and thus snuck onions into his meal because she figured he wouldn’t notice (and she firmly believed every meal tasted better with onions).
I also remember my dad telling my brother and me that it was just a matter of time until we’d experience similar GI issues, because our grandpa also suffered from similar ailments all his life, up until he died of stomach cancer in his late 40s.
Little did he know that both my brother and I had already experienced the onset of IBS at that time, but the symptoms weren’t severe enough to raise any red flags.
Specifically, I was often bloated and/or constipated, leading to longer-than-normal potty breaks. As I grew older, my symptoms got worse. I recall one day during a youth summer camp where my belly was so bloated that I couldn’t even walk upright without suffering agonizing pain.
As time passed, I began to accept that GI issues were a regular part of my life. During my 20s and most of my 30s, it didn’t even occur to me that none of the symptoms I was experiencing were normal.
But most of the time, I could manage them if I just had a toilet nearby that I could use — or if I was able to pass gas without bothering anyone.
When I met my wife in 2009, I learned that she also had chronic gut issues, manifesting in frequent bloating, heartburn, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
How I Cured Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Almost Overnight)
Up until 2013, my wife and I both followed a standard American diet that was rich in grains, processed carbohydrates and vegetable oils. But after watching the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead on Netflix, about the health implications of consuming massive amounts of added sugars, we started implementing dietary changes, beginning with avoiding sugar-laden foods.
That documentary sparked my curiosity about the impact food has on our health. In 2015, a friend inspired me to go on a paleo diet that was supposed to mimic what early humans and our Paleolithic ancestors would have eaten (but using modern foods).
As part of that dietary transition, we removed entire food categories from our plates, including:
- Artificial sweeteners.
- Cereal grains.
- Legumes (peanuts, beans, lentils, tofu).
- Processed foods.
- Refined sugar.
- Refined vegetable oils.
- Soda and other sweetened beverages.
At the beginning of our paleo journey, most of our meals consisted of a piece of beef, chicken or fish, paired with grilled vegetables, such as peppers, carrots or zucchini.
Within a few days, all my gut issues had disappeared and I felt great for the first time in decades. No more bloating and discomfort after meals! I could finally feel comfortable leaving the house without strategically planning my bathroom breaks. I felt liberated!
For the next couple of months, I experienced no IBS symptoms. And I figured I was cured.
But a few months into our paleo journey, we began embracing a more society-friendly version of this diet that included baked goods made with nut flours and starches made from tubers, to name a few of the “paleo upgrades” we made.
We even purchased several cookbooks that taught us how to make everyday dishes paleo-friendly.
The unintentional side effect of that transition was that we significantly increased the variety of foods we ate. We also ate more of specific food categories, including nuts and seeds, than in the past.
After a few weeks on this “modern” paleo diet, my IBS symptoms returned in full force. I was shocked and couldn’t explain it, because I thought the paleo diet had cured my IBS permanently.
My Search for an IBS Cure Continued
So I went to my primary care physician, who referred me to a gastroenterologist to perform a gastroscopy. This procedure involved swallowing a tube with a camera attached to the front, enabling the doctor to look for signs of inflammation, bleeding or ulcers.
Fortunately, the gastroscopy didn’t reveal any damage to my stomach or the upper part of my small intestine (which is as far as the tube reaches).
Next, my doctor tested me for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) that he thought could be causing the bloating I was experiencing after meals. However, the SIBO test came back negative too.
Considering that my doctor couldn’t diagnose the problem, he told me I had what’s known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). He also said that many of his patients had the same issue, and that there was no cure.
He didn’t think it would make a huge difference, but suggested trying to implement dietary changes, such as avoiding FODMAPs.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard about FODMAP. It stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly. Foods high in FODMAPs include dairy, cereal grains, legumes, nuts and many fruits high in fructose.
I wasn’t convinced that pursuing a low-FODMAP diet would help, because I firmly believed that paleo was the healthiest diet there was. Plus, I didn’t want to cut out many of the “healthy foods” I regularly ate, including nuts, seeds and vegetables.
Instead, I was sure I had some sort of bacterial overgrowth and I continued to pursue additional tests, including one for helicobacter pylori and antibodies in my blood that could indicate food sensitivities. I also had my stools analyzed to check for parasites and an abundance of certain opportunistic bacteria, such as E. coli, clostridium and others.
Unfortunately, none of those tests were conclusive. Some even turned out to be inherently unreliable, such as the IgG-based food sensitivity tests. So I was back at square one.
The Keto Diet Made My Symptoms Worse
As I learned more about the impact of food on human metabolism and how our ancestors ate for millennia, I decided that our paleo diet was no longer good enough.
I was convinced that a very low-carb (ketogenic) diet would improve our health and cure my gut issues.
As you might know, keto is an elimination diet that doesn’t allow the consumption of most sweet fruits and starchy veggies.
But much like with the modern paleo diet, there are different approaches to following a ketogenic diet. For example, we learned various ways to make regular dishes (especially treats and baked foods) keto-friendly by leveraging nut butter, nut flours, non-caloric sweeteners and low-carb veggies, including cauliflower, garlic and onions.
Unfortunately, the foods I ate as part of my low-carb journey worsened my IBS, and I grew increasingly frustrated.
How I Permanently Cured IBS
At some point during my search for a cure, I remembered the reason why I embarked on a Paleolithic diet in the first place: to mimic the diet that allowed our ancestors to thrive and evolve into modern humans.
Then it occurred to me that what I was eating every day bore little resemblance to the diet of our ancestors.
In other words, I was consuming massive amounts of processed foods that our ancestors either didn’t have access to (such as nut butter and seed oil) or that they only consumed during certain times of the year (such as fruits and veggies).
So I decided to implement a fairly dramatic change by removing all foods that could potentially upset my digestive system.
Based on my research, I learned that all plants (to varying degrees) have compounds, including FODMAPs and defense chemicals, that can wreak havoc on the digestive system. So the first step was to cut out all plants, dairy and eggs from my diet.
All I was left to eat was meat and seafood.
Within a few days, my IBS symptoms disappeared and I felt great again.
Next, I began reintroducing certain foods, including pasture raised eggs, sweet fruits and some veggies, to see what would trigger my symptoms.
Some triggers I discovered included inulin (a prebiotic fiber found in artichokes, bananas, onions, wheat and other plants), garlic, nuts and nut flours, sweet potatoes, leafy greens and others.
The discovery that plant-based foods were the root cause of my gut issues ultimately led me to an animal-based diet consisting mainly of protein and fat from muscle meat and organs, raw honey, seasonal sweet fruits, raw dairy and some of the least-toxic plants (e.g., cucumbers, zucchini and squash).
These days, the entire Kummer household follows an animal-based diet that takes into account what each of our individual bodies can tolerate.
For example, our youngest son Lucas doesn’t do well with eggs. At the same time, our oldest daughter appears to have a relatively robust digestive system that can even handle the occasional nut-flour-based muffin.
Fortunately, we’ve learned through trial and error which foods trigger our symptoms, so we don’t have to be on a strict carnivore diet. Instead, we can include some seasonal sweet fruits, the least-toxic veggies and raw honey.
Aside from Lucas, we also enjoy fresh eggs from our hens, and dairy (including raw milk).
6 Steps You Can Take Cure Your IBS Symptoms
If you’ve been suffering from IBS or similar digestive issues, including Crohn’s disease, colitis or ulcers, I highly recommend taking the following steps:
- Remove all plant foods from your diet immediately.
- Cut out eggs and dairy. The lactose and casein in the latter can worsen your symptoms.
- Avoid alcohol (or use a high-quality alcohol alternative).
- Consume only meat, organs and raw honey for 30-90 days.
- Consider using supplements that can help heal your gut (see below).
- Once your symptoms have subsided, slowly reintroduce the least-toxic plant foods.
As I discussed in my article comparing meat vs. plants, all plants have defense chemicals (antinutrients such as lectins and oxalates) that deter animals and humans from eating them. In comparison, animals fight or run away to deter you from eating them.
By removing the toxins found in plant foods from your diet, you allow your gut to heal. While I consider raw dairy a healthy source of nutrients, some people can’t tolerate it, so I recommend avoiding dairy products at first. You can reintroduce them later once your gut has healed. Alcohol is another toxin that has the potential to irritate the delicate lining inside your gut, so cut it out for a few weeks.
The good news is that you can eat as much meat as you like. Still, I recommend sticking with the meat and organs from ruminants (e.g., cows, goats, sheep and venison) and limiting your intake of meat from monogastric animals (like pork and chicken) because it’s naturally higher in linoleic acid, an inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). You can also enjoy wild-caught seafood.
Of course, when I say “meat,” I mean fresh, unprocessed and unseasoned meat. Consuming marinated meat or adding spices will likely irritate your gut and prevent it from healing. The only seasoning you can and should use liberally is salt (ideally a high-quality Himalayan or comparable salt).
Note: Wondering what the science says about my recommendation? Researchers at Harvard University studied over 2,000 people on a carnivore diet and found that 97% “improved or resolved gastrointestinal conditions” after they stopped consuming most plat-based foods.
As far as supplements to assist in your gut-healing journey are concerned, you can consider:
- Bovine colostrum. The insulin-like growth factors in bovine colostrum can help stimulate the regeneration and proliferation of cells in the gut lining (epithelium). Check out my article about the health benefits of bovine colostrum to learn more.
- Ancient dirt water. We buy a liquid mineral supplement called ION Gut Health made from ancient dirt water to help strengthen the cellular barriers in our gut and other body parts.
- Ozone oil. Ozone has a number of health benefits, and ozone oil can help treat parasites in the gut and other inflammatory issues. We use a product from SimplyO3.
- Spore-based probiotics. Spore-based or soil-based probiotics can help reestablish a healthy gut microbiome. My favorite product in this category is Terraflora from Enviromedica.
- Digestive enzymes. This can help with breaking down the extra fat and protein you’ll be consuming while your pancreas adjusts by increasing its enzyme production. I like MassZymes from biOptimizers.
- Magnesium. Magnesium is an important mineral that helps your gut move food along as it gets digested. BiOptimizers Magnesium Breakthrough is the magnesium supplement we use every day before bedtime.
Once you’re free of symptoms, you can slowly start reintroducing raw dairy, sweet fruits, avocados, olives and the least-toxic plants, including de-seeded and peeled squash, zucchini and cucumbers.
From there, I highly recommend sticking with a predominantly animal-based diet for the rest of your life. Doing so dramatically increases your chances of maintaining a healthy gut and avoiding most of the chronic diseases that Americans suffer from.
Non-Pharmaceutical Methods to Relieve the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
While you implement the tips I outlined above, there are a couple of methods that can help improve your symptoms that don’t require prescription medication, including:
- Physical activity. I always felt better during and after light physical activity, because being active can help with gut motility.
- Relaxation techniques. Sauna bathing, breathing exercises and meditation are great ways to relax and change how you perceive the symptoms of IBS.
One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that stress can have a major impact on my health and well-being. By learning to control how you respond to stress by down-regulating the sympathetic branch of your nervous system, you can positively influence your gut health.
To learn more check out my article about how I manage stress and the benefits of ice baths and cold water immersion.
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s possible, but unlikely. While there are several lifestyle factors that can cause IBS (or influence its progression), diet is usually the main culprit. Once your digestive system has started malfunctioning, it’s almost impossible for it to get back to a normal state if you don’t address the root cause of the issue.
That’s why I recommend making substantial dietary changes to allow your gut to heal and your IBS symptoms to subside. Once your gut is working optimally again, it’s OK to reintroduce some of the foods you enjoyed before (because that chances are a healthy digestive system can handle them).
There are four types of subcategories of IBS that are defined by the symptoms patients experience, including IBS-D (mostly diarrhea and abdominal discomfort), IBS-C (mostly constipation and abdominal discomfort), IBS-mixed (alternating loose stools and constipation with abdominal discomfort) and the undefined subtype IBS-U, which presents with various symptoms.
The good news is that the methods presented in this article are applicable to all four IBS types. In other words, lifestyle and dietary factors are at the root cause at all four types and so the cure is the same. Looking back at the mixed symptoms I suffered from for three decades, I suppose I was in the IBS-mixed camp.
While certain plants have a place in a species-appropriate diet, most plants contain defense chemicals that can negatively impact the health of the digestive system. Plants don’t want to be eaten, so they’ve developed chemical weapons (called antinutrients) to deter people from consuming them. You can learn more in my article comparing meat vs. plants.
Yes, gluten is an inflammatory protein that can trigger IBS symptoms. That’s why I recommend removing cereal grains and other processed foods that might be contaminated with gluten from your diet.
Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective tool for treating the symptoms of IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders, because of the connection between the gut and brain via the nervous system (aka gut-brain axis).
However, I consider CBT a complementary treatment option to dietary changes. If you keep adding fuel to the fire by consuming inflammatory foods, you won’t be able to succeed in the long-term treatment of IBS.
Removing all carbohydrates from your diet (meat doesn’t have any carbs) increases your body’s electrolyte demands, so it’s important to increase your electrolyte intake (especially sodium).
Despite what most government agencies tell you, science has shown that consuming between four to six grams of sodium (that’s eight to 12 grams of salt) is the optimal range, leading to the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.
So make sure you add enough salt to your meat or consider a delicious electrolyte supplement such as LMNT.
If you aren’t used to eating a lot of protein and fat, your stomach probably isn’t producing enough enzymes and bile juice to properly digest meat, and it might take a while for your digestive system to get used to your “new” diet.
I recommend eating slowly and chewing your food well. That gives your stomach time to release enough enzymes to aid with digestion. You can also take digestive enzymes or diluted apple cider vinegar before meals to support your stomach.
How soon you can expect improvement varies from person to person and depends on the severity of your gut issues. Some people (like me) see improvements within two weeks, but for others it might take a few months. Chances are your IBS developed over several years, so you shouldn’t expect a full recovery within a few days. The best advice I can give you is to be patient and consistent. I promise, it’ll be worth it.
I recommend fats from animal-based sources, including grass-fed butter, ghee or tallow. I also recommend that you avoid vegetable oils, because they’re inflammatory and studies have shown that they can actually cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The best home remedy to treat and cure IBS is to stop consuming the foods that cause gut issues in the first place. This includes processed foods, but also most plants.
While peppermint oil can feel soothing when you have an upset stomach, it doesn’t work with issues affecting your large intestine. I tried peppermint oil for several weeks while I experienced IBS symptoms and didn’t notice any improvement.
Despite what you might have heard from your dietitian or the media, humans don’t need fiber to maintain a healthy digestive tract and normal bowel habits. I strongly recommend not using fiber supplements (such as Metamucil) or maintaining a high-fiber diet, because both can worsen IBS symptoms.
As far as my experience with fiber supplements is concerned, I can tell you that inulin worsened my symptoms while psyllium husk and acacia fiber had no impact whatsoever on my IBS symptoms.
Wrap-Up: When It Comes to IBS, Managing the Symptoms Doesn’t Fix the Problem
Western medicine has gotten incredibly good at managing the symptoms of ailments caused by our modern lifestyle. Rather than fixing the root causes of modern illnesses, treating symptoms with pharmaceuticals appears to be the default treatment recommendation of many healthcare professionals. I’d argue that’s because selling drugs is more profitable than recommending lifestyle changes.
So instead of advising IBS patients to stop eating foods incompatible with human physiology, most doctors prescribe medication, such as over-the-counter antacids (i.e., proton pump inhibitors), steroids, laxatives, antispasmodics, immunosuppressants, loperamide (Imodium), antibiotics (e.g., rifaximin) and even antidepressants.
But none of these drugs fix the underlying problem. The only way to cure IBS (and similar gut issues) is to adopt a lifestyle that’s compatible with how the human body has evolved over millions of years. That includes the avoidance of foods that cause inflammation and that damage the delicate lining of the gut, better managing stress, and focusing on sleep quality, to name a few.
Check out my article about the core principles of a healthy lifestyle to learn more about these concepts.
If you suffer from IBS and you want to give my tips a try, let me know about your experience in the comment section below!
Michael is a healthy living enthusiast and CrossFit athlete whose goal is to help people achieve optimal health by bridging the gap between ancestral living and the demands of modern society.