Digestive Health Part 7: IBD vs. IBS

Digestive Health Part 7: IBD vs. IBS

Written by Dr. Claire Arcidiacono, ND IBS

For further questions or concerns email me at [email protected]

Many people are confused by the difference between Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. While it sounds like the same issue, that is not the case. Both are digestive conditions involving irritation and symptoms such as diarrhea, gas and bloating. While that may imply they’re the same, that’s not the case. Irritable Bowel Disease has more destructive symptoms than Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Irritable Bowel Disease causes inflammation and in some cases permanent harm to the intestines. It’s diagnosed using tests such as a colonoscopy. While Irritable Bowel Syndrome is classified as a “syndrome”.  In most cases, Irritable Bowel Syndrome does not cause permanent damage to the intestines. It’s diagnosed by excluding other causes of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.  Irritable Bowel Disease increases your risk for colon cancer and Irritable Bowel Syndrome doesn’t typically affect cancer risk.  While both can have systemic symptoms, this is more associated with IBD. We’ll be focusing on the digestive issues that can arise from having these issues. (1)



Irritable Bowel Disease, unlike Irritable Bowel Syndrome is broken down into two sub-types, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Ulcerative Colitis involves ulcers and inflammation along the lining of the large intestine and rectum. Crohn’s Disease involves just the inflammation of the digestive tract in the small intestine but can extend to the large intestine. (2)

Symptoms of both Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis include diarrhea, fatigue, blood in the stool as well as abdominal pain and cramping. Both forms of Irritable Bowel Disease can cause a decrease in hunger as well as weight loss. While Irritable Bowel Syndrome has similar symptoms, there are some differences. For example, in both Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome there is often cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating and diarrhea. However, Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also cause constipation or rather than just constipation or diarrhea it can cause both. From a holistic prospective, we know that Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are associated with leaky gut syndrome. As mentioned earlier Irritable Bowel Disease is also associated with systemic symptoms such as joint pain. This is not typically seen in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (3)

Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome can both be triggered by similar conditions. While the exact cause’s for both isn’t known, there are some triggers. An immune system malfunction is an example of one possible trigger, especially in the case of Irritable Bowel Disease. This can be triggered because of a pathogen. Other possible triggers include dietary triggers such as food sensitivities. Stress is another trigger for both Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It’s well documented that stress can make Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome worse. It’s also well known that if you have one autoimmune disease, there is a propensity to develop other autoimmune issues. Certain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can increase the risk of Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (4)

Both Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause consequences if not properly treated.  If there is long term inflammation with blood loss, it can lead to a person being anemic. If the inflammation extends through the intestinal wall, it can lead to things such as fistulas, fissures and toxic megacolon. Irritable Bowel Disease can affect other parts of the body including the joints, liver, gallbladder as well as the eyes. (5)

Because Irritable Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are so similar, unless you see a doctor, you won’t be properly diagnosed. A stool test, blood work and a colonoscopy will be performed to determine your diagnosis. If you are in remission or having an active flare up, there are certain things that can be helpful during a flare up and other things to avoid during.

How to Help Symptoms

Studies show that eliminating any food allergies, sensitivities or foods that just trigger your symptoms can be helpful.(6) Reducing your stress has also been found in studies to help with both IBD(7) and IBS.(8) Castor oil packs have been found to help abdominal cramps and constipation associated with digestive issues. (9)


Probiotics have been found in studies to lower inflammation in the digestive tract, thus helping both IBD and IBS. (15) There are several herbs that can be helpful in working with the symptoms of both IBD and IBS. Aloe Vera has been found to be protective of the digestive tract lining especially in the case of IBD. (16) Slippery Elm is helpful in addressing the symptoms both IBD and IBS in studies. (17) A surprising study finds marshmallow helps the irritated mucus layer of the digestive tract which we know is often seen in IBD and IBS. (18)

Invite Health’s G.I. Maintain, L Glutamine powder and G.I. Rebuild can help IBD and IBS symptoms. L-Glutamine has been found in studies to help modulate the digestive tract’s immune system and can protect our overall gut health. This makes it a great choice for both IBD and IBS (19) Zinc carnosine has been found to lower the amount of gastric inflammation and injury making it helpful for the damage and irritation in IBD and IBS. (20)

If there is no flare up, you can use these products to help with moderate inflammation. Studies show that turmeric is helpful in reducing the inflammatory markers found in IBD (10) while it can help alleviate the symptoms found in IBS too.(11) Invite Health’s Biocurcumin 5 Loxin, Curcumin blend and Turmeric with Ginger are good products to assist with inflammation. Green lipped muscle has been found in studies to help moderate the immune system in IBD.(12) Invite Health’s InflamMune can help with the immune system like Green Lipped Muscle. Omega 3’s have been found to lower the inflammation found in IBD.(13) In fact, a study from Taiwan indicated an Omega 3 deficiency may worsen the signs of IBS. (14) Invite Health’s Fish Oil, bi omega, Krill Oil and Flax seed powder are good sources of Omega-3’s.

For more information on this topic please contact an Invite Health nutritionist for a free consultation about your lifestyle. Next week we will be talking about the difference between Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis.


  1. https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ibd/ibs-vs-ibd
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/inflammatory-bowel-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353315
  3. https://www.webmd.com/ibs/guide/ibs-ibd-differences
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016
  5. https://www.webmd.com/ibd-crohns-disease/ibd-symptoms-body
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20360064
  7. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2648.1986.tb01288.x
  8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12529-012-9241-6
  9. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1744388110000320
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6271352/#!po=7.29167
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6210149/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6049590/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4700845/
  14. https://www.nutraingredients-asia.com/Article/2018/03/09/Abdominal-pain-in-IBS-A-lack-of-omega-3-could-be-the-culprit-says-Taiwan-study
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5307257/#:~:text=Studies%20have%20also%20shown%20that,typically%20leads%20to%20mucosal%20healing.
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7402976/
  17. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/slippery-elm-bark
  18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874109006102?via%3Dihub
  19. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213453021000112#:~:text=Glutamine%20directly%20supports%20gut%20health,the%20inflammatory%20response%20in%20situations
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1856764/

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