April is IBS Awareness Month. You probably won’t come across any marches for Irritable Bowel Syndrome this month, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a widespread issue. In fact, IBS is the most common disorder of the digestive tract, affecting approximately 1 in every 5 Australians at some point in their life.
What is IBS?
IBS is a condition of the gastrointestinal tract with a wide array of symptoms – mostly commonly abdominal pain, bloating, distension, wind, constipation and/or diarrhoea. IBS is often embarrassing – but it can also be debilitating, with serious lifestyle consequences for those who are unable to leave the safe radius of a bathroom.
The good news is there is a lot that can be done!
What are the causes of IBS?
It can often be complicated to identify a single cause of IBS because there are many contributing factors. IBS is often triggered by an event such as food poisoning, gastroenteritis or a course of antibiotics, all of which can disrupt the digestive system and lead to recurring symptoms. Other times symptoms appear gradually and worsen progressively over time.
The wide range of causes of IBS include food sensitivities, lack of stomach acid (HCl) or enzymes to digest food properly, lactose intolerance, fructose malabsorption, histamine intolerance, gut dysbiosis (bacteria imbalances in your microbiome), yeast overgrowth, SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) and stress.
What You Can Do
The key is to heal your gut, but the approach can be different for each individual. Working with a qualified practitioner can help take the guesswork out of finding your unique solution (we’d love to help!), but there are things you can try at home too.
- If you’re experiencing the symptoms of IBS with constipation, try getting more high fibre vegetables into your diet. Cooked leafy greens including kale, collard greens, and broccoli can help get your bowels moving. Other good additions are psyllium husks and fresh ground flax seed.
- People with IBS have a more sensitive intestinal lining which means they are more prone to food intolerances. Keeping a food journal for at least 5 days is the best way to identify your personal intolerances. Be sure to note what you ate, as well as any reactions immediately after eating and again an hour later.
- If you don’t have a strong sense of what foods trigger your IBS, you can try eliminating the most common food allergens and irritants for 12 weeks — dairy, gluten, yeast, sugar.
- Research is catching up to the gut – mind connection. Stress can have a significant impact on your digestion. Try a research-backed meditation program like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Always sit down to eat and chew slowly.
- Taking a daily probiotic can help many people with IBS. However it can be helpful to know which good bacteria needs boosting and sometimes it’s necessary to first use anti-microbial herbs to reduce the population of unwanted bacteria – come in and see us if you have questions.
- Many people with IBS have benefitted by the FODMAP diet developed by Australian researchers at Monash University. This is a short-term diet which avoids short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut and can trigger symptoms in people with IBS.
- If you experience excessive bloating within an hour after eating, it’s possible you have SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). Part of the treatment of SIBO is avoiding sugars and foods that are not easily digested or that are fermented by these bacteria that are not meant to be in the small intestine. Please note: If you suspect you have SIBO, we strongly suggest you come and talk to us about it, because an accurate diagnosis can shorten your healing time significantly.
There is no reason to continue to suffer from IBS! Try some of these suggestions to figure out the underlying causes of your symptoms, or come and see how we can help at Invitation to Health.