April is IBS Awareness Month. A condition affecting more people than you might realise, we asked Certified Nutritionist Rabin Das from Das Nutrition to talk us through what IBS is and how sufferers might be able to help manage their symptoms.

What is IBS?

The ‘gut’ is a trendy topic as of late with more and more people looking for ways to ‘heal’ their guts. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the reasons why ‘gut healing’ has become an attractive option.

Affecting 10-20% [1] of the population and being more prevalent in women [2], it is no wonder we have an urge to look after our insides more and more.

However, IBS is a functional bowel disorder with no solid disease state but with overlapping symptoms and treatment suggestions.

IBS exists as IBS-D (diarrhoea) and IBS-C (constipation) or as a mixture of both.

 

Why does it matter?

IBS appears to affect more people than we know – through greater awareness or it’s increasing prevalence. Anecdotally, we could say that due to the changes in our current ‘food environment’ and lifestyles, symptoms relating to IBS may be becoming more common.

Finding ways to manage symptoms as well as managing the overall condition could provide massive relief.

It’s also important to know about IBS because many of the symptoms overlap with more serious chronic conditions and can be seen as red flag indicators.

Knowing about the symptoms of IBS matters but it’s equally vital to mitigate the symptoms as best as possible through lifestyle interventions.

We want to reach for the most practical, basic treatment as the first line of defence before looking at more advanced, restrictive methods or perhaps going down the route of a method that lacks evidence and efficacy.

 

8 Practical Tips to Manage Your IBS Symptoms

1. Regular meal times

Putting some structure in place to have meals at a regular and consistent time each day can go a long way toward managing symptoms. It’s a simple enough strategy to begin using straight away and monitoring your symptoms [3].

2. Only have ‘essential’ coffees!

Many of us can’t get by without a strong cup of coffee or ten in the morning. However, if you do suffer from IBS-like symptoms, too much caffeine is a ‘no-go’. Caffeine tends to stimulate the gut to ‘move’ and too much can irritate it, giving way to worse IBS symptoms [4].

3. Be mindful of alcohol

Alcohol may not be your friend if you have IBS. It reduces the absorption of sodium and water and acts on the ‘gut barrier’ in a negative way. There’s also reason to believe that it can increase stomach pain in an unrelated manner to IBS [5].

4. Be careful with fibre: The ‘goldilocks’ paradox

Fibre is definitely a component of good health. However some forms of fibre can aggravate IBS symptoms. Insoluble fibre, for example, promotes ‘good speed’ through the colon. The problem is if you happen to have IBS-D like symptoms, it would be wise to limit these types [6].

Think about reducing wholegrain, bran, cereals etc…

5. Reduce ‘resistant starch’ where possible

Meal prep is a great thing but having things like rice and potato cooling in the fridge is not a good thing if you suffer from IBS. These two form ‘resistant starch’ when cooled and reheated. It resists digestion in the small intestine and then causes trouble later on [7]. Not good.

6. Limit protein bars or diet drinks

Safe for global consumption, those who suffer from IBS and IBS like symptoms have trouble with high protein snacks or diet drinks.

Repeat offenders tend to be sugar alcohol based – a small carbohydrate like structure that can irritate the gut. With artificial sweeteners and polyols etc., there tends to be a certain dose that initiates symptoms [8].

7. Trouble ‘getting going?’ Try the oats and golden linseeds hack..

The fibre found in oats and linseeds can improve regularity. Soluble fibre increases bulk, improves transit time and is generally a good thing for those with IBS-C [9].

8. Manage stress

Stress is a known factor in promoting IBS symptoms. For this reason adding in some over-complicated, unrealistic suggestions can make a bad situations even worse, not better [10].

How? Exercise, meditation, yoga, long walks – whatever method you feel can minimise any feelings of stress is a go.

From a dietary management of stress point of view, supplementing with omega-3 could also be considered [11].

 

__

 

While not an exhaustive list, the ideas above are a great starting point before jumping into advanced or restrictive methods for managing IBS symptoms.

Remember, it’s better to find a more manageable treatment that still allows you to ‘live’.

 

References:

8. Nanayakarra et al (2016)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27382323