What is IBS?
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a long-standing health issue affecting the gastrointestinal tract or the gut. It’s associated with an array of symptoms e.g., abdominal cramps, painful bloating, gas and irregular bowel habits, such as constipation and or diarrhoea – so overall very unpleasant and inconvenient. These symptoms can ease and worsen over time, varying in duration and severity from person to person. IBS can present at any age however, interestingly (and unfortunately) women are more likely to suffer from IBS. The symptoms can be painful, embarrassing, and somewhat conflicting which can be frustrating and confusing for those suffering from IBS. I know it’s not the most glamourous condition to discuss but with it affecting between 6% and 14% of people it’s got to be done! (1). So, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you’re not alone!
As IBS can seriously affect your quality of life, pinpointing your individual triggers and managing your symptoms is the best way forward. In our fast-paced world I know often everyone wants a quick fix but unfortunately, the treatment for IBS is not so simple. This is because everyone presents different symptoms and has different triggers, therefore, identifying those pesky IBS-inducing foods can be tricky. However, there are lots of different treatments, including dietary and lifestyle changes and some medications, that can help you take back control of your life (2).
One of the most common treatments for IBS is a low FODMAP diet. FODMAP’s or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols are carbohydrates that can’t be absorbed properly in the gut - resulting in the symptoms of IBS. But don’t’ be scared off by the crazy complex name, our experienced dietitian can work with you by sifting through your diet to identify those specific foods that may be triggering or exacerbating your symptoms. As everyone’s condition is unique to them their dietary approach to managing their symptoms will also be unique. For example, some people may manage their symptoms without a low FODMAP diet and some with only partial FODMAP restrictions. This is why seeking help from a registered dietitian (RD) can be so beneficial when battling with IBS. A RD can guide you through an elimination diet followed by a reintroduction period, in order to identify your dietary triggers (3,4).
Your specific symptoms will impact your approach to managing IBS, but here are a few key tips to prevent IBS flare ups:
- Identify your triggers – visit a dietitian to try various dietary approaches (2).
- Increase physical activity – I know you might not think it at the time, but you’ll feel so much better afterward, both physically and mentally (5).
- Manage your stress levels, relax… (4) the gut and the mind are closely linked so definitely don’t dismiss this one! And keep an eye for an upcoming blog on this topic!!
- Don’t skip meals (5) – speaking for myself on this one, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem!
- Try to avoid eating too fast (5).
- Canavan, C., West, J. and Card, T. (2014). The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical epidemiology, 6, p.71.
- Bhesania, N. and Cresci, G.A. (2017). A nutritional approach for managing irritable bowel syndrome. Current opinion in pediatrics, 29(5), p.584.
- Barrett, J.S., 2017. How to institute the low‐FODMAP diet. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology, 32, pp.8-10.
- Emeran Mayer (2018) The Mind-Gut Connection. New York: Harper Collins.
- NHS (2021) Irritable bowel syndrome. Available at - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/diet-lifestyle-and-medicines/