I’m often asked about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) by clients. IBS affects up to 20% of adults, with a variety of symptoms that vary for person to person. I share with you my 6 tips for helping IBS, but first some background about what the symptoms of IBS are.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, it is likely that you have a combination the following symptoms:
What are the symptoms of IBS?
- abdominal pain or discomfort which is relieved by going to the toilet, or a change in bowel habit.
- change in bowel habit
- urgency to pass stool
Additionally, many people also report that they have other symptoms too such as:
- bladder symptoms such as urgency needing the toilet
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially altered bowel habit, it is important to be checked out by your doctor to rule out other diagnoses such as Coeliac Disease. This is especially important if you have any of these additional symptoms:
- a family history of ovarian or bowel cancer
- pass blood with stool
- unexplained and unintentional weight loss
- any change of bowel habit that persists for more than 6 weeks
Why does IBS happen?
Until recently we didn’t know why or how the symptoms of IBS happened. This is now changing, and there are a number of possible mechanistic theories that might share similar pathways, explaining the spectrum of symptoms and often variability of the syndrome.
Gut infection, genetics, antibiotics, diet, chronic stress or a susceptible microbiome (friendly bacteria and organisms that live in the gut), are now thought to lead to a ‘leaky’ gut. This in turn leads to inflammation and that could disturb the gut-brain axis, causing both gut and more generalised symptoms such as tiredness and anxiety.
6 Tips for Helping IBS
At present any genetic risk of IBS can not be changed, but there are a number of other risk factors that can be modulated.
- Reduce your chronic stress, by taking time to relax. Exercise, mindfulness, massage, and sleep may help.
- Keep a food diary to see if any particular food items repeatedly worsen your symptoms.
- If you particularly suffer from wind and bloating, then limit the legumes, pulses, sprouts, and sugar-free chewing gum.
- If you suffer more from constipation, try to gradually increase your fibre intake from whole-grains, oats, vegetables, seeds, and fruit.
- If diarrhoea is your main symptom then reduce your high-fibre intake, avoid sweeteners in hot drinks, sugar free mints and chewing gum, and reduce caffeine from tea and coffee.
- Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that may help to restore the balance of friendly organisms within the gut (microbiota). There are lots of ways that you can help support these friendly micro-organisms that are so important for gut and general health. Firstly have a diet rich in fruit and vegetables that you can tolerate; the fibre in these are fermented by the organisms and used as nourishment for them. Secondly eat a range of naturally fermented foods/drinks such as kefir, low sugar kombucha, artisan cheese, and raw fermented slaw such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Thirdly, studies have shown that some probiotics can reduce the symptoms of IBS. You could try Bio-kult. For a dairy free kefir, try Biomel. Use the discount code ‘healthyeatingdr’ at the checkout for free delivery of Biomel.
Many clients tell me that they have cut out a number of food groups such as dairy and gluten, because they think that will help. Gluten free food is not healthier for the majority of people that do not have a gluten allergy. Additionally, cutting out dairy can have implications for ensuring adequate calcium intake. Therefore, it is best to keep a diary, and notice any foods that persistently cause an increase in symptoms before cutting out any food groups from your diet. Exclusion diets can be managed by a qualified nutritionist or dietician.