Tips For Tackling IBS
As someone who suffered from gut pain for the best part of 20 years, I’d like to think I can relate to those suffering with IBS. The scope of how it affects people is wide ranging – for some it’s a mild inconvenience but for others it can be debilitating and extremely stressful. For me I experienced the full spectrum with some days better than others.
According to Irish Health IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder that affects as many as one in five of our population here in Ireland. It seems more women tend to suffer from IBS and it’s usually worse for people in their 20’s and 30’s.
And while it may be common, it certainly shouldn’t be deemed normal!
What are the characteristics of IBS?
IBS is characterised by chronic and relapsing symptoms; lower abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, wind, distension, altered bowel habit (ranging from diarrhoea to constipation or an alternating combination of both) and occasionally heartburn, nausea and vomiting may occur.
And while most people report these physical symptoms it’s important to remember that the gut is responsible for a large portion of our immunity and produces feel good hormones too! When the gut is damaged people can often experience things like depression, anxiety, food sensitivities, chronic lethargy, low libido, weight management challenges, eczema and a whole lot more.
Unfortunately IBS can be a bit of a mystery as there is no single test for it and the diagnosis is normally made by a medical practitioner by ruling out other potential issues. I remember being told that I probably had IBS, I felt like I was just lumped into the ‘well we don’t know what it is, so we’ll just say it’s IBS’ category which for many can feel frustrating.
So what’s happening in there??
The gut is a complex place and somewhere where scientists are only starting beginning to really understand. It’s estimated that there are over 10 times more bacteria in our guts than cells in our bodies and they play a huge role in our health and wellbeing.
There are also a lot of neurons (cells within the nervous system that transmit information) in the gut which is why the gut is often called the second brain and people often talk about ‘gut feelings’. Not only does the brain influence the gut, it seems it works the other direction too. Many IBS sufferers will say that their emotions, particularly stress levels, can make their symptoms worse. If you feel tense and stressed, it could make your digestive system tense and stressed too and exacerbate IBS symptoms.
Between the bacteria, neurons, diet and stressful lifestyles it’s no wonder that the symptoms of IBS can differ from person to person.
There doesn’t seem to be a single cause of IBS but factors such as emotional issues, trauma, stress, diet, lifestyle and intestinal flora balance could all play a part.
So what can you do if you have IBS?
While there is no one ‘cure’ for IBS, there are definitely things you can do to help ease the symptoms.
- Look into the Low-FODMAP diet and Take Out Food Triggers
The acronym FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. These short-chain carbohydrates are incompletely absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and can be easily fermented by gut bacteria which in turn can produce the IBS symptoms. They are found in a wide range of foods including milk and milk products, certain fruits and vegetables, sweeteners such as honey, some grains such as wheat and rye and some legumes such as chickpeas.
There is good evidence that going on a low-FODMAP diet can help reduce symptoms significantly. In one study, a FODMAPs-restricted diet showed a 75% success rate for treating patients with IBS – the FODMAPs didn’t cause IBS to develop, but removing them from the diet was very helpful in controlling symptoms. It’s a good idea to speak to a nutritionist or health coach before embarking on this so that you don’t miss out on essential nutrients.
Monash University in Australia is at the forefront of FODMAP research and have a great app with loads of information about IBS and the low FODMAP diet. For more information http://www.med.monash.edu/cecs/gastro/fodmap/
- Try some supplements
- Peppermint oil (make sure it’s food grade) can help calm muscle spasms in the gut. I take a few drops of oil into some warm water about 30 minutes after my dinner
- Fish oil. I take Omega 3 tablets to help with inflammation in the gut.
- L-Glutamine. I take this amino acid to help with repairing my gut lining.
Of course, please consult with your health care practitioner before you start taking any supplements!
- Tackle stress
I try to do some form of exercise whether it be yoga or walking every day and try to meditate for at least 10 minutes. Even better if it can be done outdoors so you can get a double dose of wellbeing being out in nature. Also going to speak to a counsellor or a therapist can be of great help to work through any emotional issues or past traumas as people tend to hold on and internalise these stressors.
- Eat mindfully
It’s important to be in ‘rest and digest’ when eating so your food can be better digested. Taking a few deep breaths before you start a meal, eating slowly and chewing properly can be of great benefit.
- Probiotics may help with IBS
While using probiotics may be helpful for some people, it might not be right for everybody. It’s important to get one that is low FODMAP and that suits you as some people may find that they worsen their symptoms.
Do you suffer from IBS? What’s worked for you?