So you’ve been diagnosed with IBS. I was too, back in 2011.
Being diagnosed was at once embarrassing, disheartening, and — between all the drugs and doctor visits — a real wallet-thinner. But I accepted it. I figured modern medicine knew best, so I played along.
But I stopped playing that game a long time ago. When I did, the results were nothing short of magical.
These days, my gut is still sensitive to certain foods, but my chronic IBS symptoms are now history. Which means they no longer dominate my life.
Don’t get me wrong. Healing my gut wasn’t easy. But the crucial inflection point (the reason I’m writing this) was the moment I stopped believing I had IBS. Then I could move forward, get better, and be happy again.
If you’re skeptical, good. You shouldn’t just throw away a medical diagnosis without good reason. All I’m asking is that you keep an open mind.
The IBS Machine
If you visit the doctor with a stomach ache, you’re bound to join the millions of Americans diagnosed each year with irritable bowel syndrome.
Then comes the treatment plan. Take these pills. Avoid spicy foods. Good luck.
It’s a simple, well-oiled machine. Everyone stays sick, the drugs keep flowing.
Here’s the thing. Big Pharma doesn’t want to end your IBS. It makes them too much money. $8,750 per patient per year, according to a review in PharmacoEconomics[*].
It runs deeper than that. Big Pharma also funds the organization (The Rome Foundation) that sets IBS diagnosis and treatment criteria.
The result is an IBS machine. Millions of diagnoses. Billions in profits.
This could be forgiven if the diagnosis was helpful. We want accurate diagnoses for diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes so we can treat them.
But the IBS diagnosis is neither accurate nor useful — and I believe the world would be better off without it.
4 Reasons To Reject Your IBS Diagnosis
I’ve been sheepish about writing this section. Rejecting an established condition sounds crazy.
But I don’t think the reasons sound crazy. Judge for yourself.
#1: It’s a meaningless diagnosis
You’d be surprised how little it takes to diagnose a person with irritable bowel syndrome.
“The presence of recurrent abdominal pain in association with abnormal bowel habits are the defining features of IBS,” write Paul Moayyedi and colleagues in the United European Gastroenterology Journal. “There is no specific biomarker or test to confirm or rule out a diagnosis”[*].
In other words, there’s nothing that shows up as IBS on a lab.
To understand what symptoms are required for a diagnosis, let’s look at the Rome IV criteria, considered the gold standard for identifying the condition[*].
According to Rome IV, a positive IBS diagnosis requires “recurrent abdominal pain” at least once per week for the past three months. The pain must be related to at least two of the following:
- “change in frequency in stool”
- “change in form (appearance) of stool”
To simplify, Rome IV translates to: if you’ve had stomach pain for the past three months, and your pooping isn’t normal, you have IBS.
To simplify further: bellyache = IBS.
If you have a persistent bellyache, you know you have a persistent bellyache. The diagnosis tells you nothing new.
My point is: IBS is a meaningless diagnosis. It’s merely a term for a cluster of symptoms.
But it’s worse than meaningless. Since IBS is a “syndrome”, the symptoms are expected to be permanent.
#2: IBS is a nocebo
You’ve heard of the placebo effect. It’s when a positive expectation (achieved by taking a sugar pill, for instance) has a positive effect on a health outcome, like pain. The mind is a powerful thing.
The opposite of the placebo effect is the nocebo effect. It’s when a negative expectation leads to a negative outcome.
You can see where I’m going with this. Being diagnosed with IBS is the ultimate nocebo for your gut.
Here’s how that works:
- You believe you have a lifelong syndrome, so you do
- You believe your symptoms will persist, so they do
- You believe you can’t be cured, so you can’t
- You believe your gut and brain can’t communicate properly, so they don’t
These beliefs are implicit in the diagnosis. Syndrome means permanent.
Plus, believing you have a syndrome is stressful. A lack of hope is stressful. More fuel for the nocebo effect.
That’s because chronic stress releases both cortisol and corticotropin factors — powerful stress chemicals that put the immune system on alert and increase inflammation in your body. These chemicals are useful if you’re being chased by a murderous psychopath, but not so helpful for healing the gut.
There’s more to say about the gut / stress connection, but for now understand: IBS is a nocebo that sets negative expectations and causes gut-deranging stress.
#3: IBS treatments are ineffective
Former U.S. president John F. Kennedy had back problems. That factoid is fairly well known.
Less known is that JFK suffered serious digestive issues. For his symptoms, his doctors prescribed muscle relaxers called antispasmodics[*]. Let’s talk about these drugs, still widely used today.
Antispasmodics have short term side effects (dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth), long term side effects (blocking a neurotransmitter involved in memory), and — according to the literature — they barely work[*].
Antispasmodics are not the only failed IBS treatment. Antibiotics, acid blockers, and antidepressants are both dangerous and ineffective too.
Consider the following:
- Antibiotics like rifaximin provides temporary relief from IBS symptoms, but the relief often dissipates when the course ends — and the benefit is just marginally better than placebo[*]. Xifaxan (brand name) costs around $650 for a 30 day supply.
- Acid blockers, or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), like Prilosec and Nexium ease heartburn by shutting down stomach acid. But shutting down stomach acid impairs digestion and lowers your defenses against pathogens like H. pylori[*].
- Antidepressants like tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have many side effects, are excruciating to quit, and are largely unproven to reduce IBS symptoms[*].
Given the lack of supporting evidence, it’s astounding these IBS drugs are still on the market.
Maybe it’s not though. People like simple solutions, and pills are simple.
Plus pills make more money than dietary advice. And nutritional healing would be bad for business.
#4: It prevents gut healing
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
Henry Ford said that. He wasn’t talking about IBS, but it applies.
The IBS diagnosis creates a ‘think you can’t’ mentality. You think you can’t get better.
This leaves no room for healing. The door is slammed shut. A future of IBS awaits.
I used to think this way. I’d go out and eat whatever, drink whatever. I had a medical syndrome. Totally out of my control. I treated my body accordingly.
But my symptoms were oppressive. I felt lousy all the time. Which made me sad.
But one day, at a low point, I stumbled to my kitchen table, grabbed a pen, and wrote a letter to myself. In the letter, I vowed to heal my gut. Whatever it took.
What it took was extreme. I had to reject my IBS and embrace something completely new. I had to embrace the belief that I could heal.
If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, you don’t need to accept it.
The truth is, it takes a 100% commitment to cure chronic gut issues. The IBS diagnosis prevents that commitment. That’s why I threw it out.
You can remove this obstacle too. It will clear a path to better health.