April is a dedicated awareness month for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It is one of the most common digestive disorders around today, and it is currently estimated that 10-15%1 of the global population suffers from it at any one time. Unfortunately for many with the condition, it can also be one of the most complex too. In this blog, we highlight some typical IBS symptoms and suggest ways to calm them.
What are the first signs of IBS?
As food travels through the bowel, the small intestine moves it along the digestive tract in a series of small squeezes known as peristalsis. With a healthy gut, this process is usually painless – in fact you are usually not aware that it’s happening. With IBS, the bowel isn’t functioning at its best, which can cause pain and discomfort alongside other digestive problems such as constipation and diarrhoea. Your gut contains a delicate ecosystem of trillions of bacteria known as the microbiota and it is believed that IBS could cause an imbalance2 in the levels of bifidobacteria, the ‘good bacteria’ in the gut.
What are the everyday IBS symptoms?
Typically, day-to-day symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can include bloating, cramps, abdominal pain, flatulence and constipation. There’s no ‘cure’ for it, but there are a few known ways to manage the symptoms of IBS. This begins with a good understanding of gut health and how all the pieces fit together. To make it as easy as possible, we’ve highlighted four tips that could help to manage the symptoms of IBS.
1. Listen to your gut
As you might expect from a system made up of countless cells, your body is unique to you, which means it responds and reacts in different ways for different people. For IBS sufferers, this can mean that certain foods, drinks or ingredients are more likely to flare up symptoms. Advice from NHS UK recommends3 keeping a diary of what you’ve eaten, along with any IBS symptoms displayed. The idea is to develop a better understanding of how your body reacts to certain foods or substances. Doing so helps to identify what triggers an individual's IBS – and what to avoid.
2. Manage stress levels
Your gut sends a lot of signals to the brain in a connection known as the ‘gut-brain axis’. Because of this relationship, it’s believed that the gut can influence many day-to-day bodily functions and processes. For those with IBS, an alternative way to ease the symptoms could be taking time to unwind and relax! A study in 20154 showed the positive impact yoga has with IBS sufferers. The research found that after three hour-long sessions per week, the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome were less severe. This consequently meant an improved quality of life. Studies in focussed relaxation therapy also reveal that actively taking time to stop and recharge can have a positive effect5 on the symptoms of IBS.
3. Can a FODMAP diet help?
When challenging the bloating, constipation and digestive discomfort that comes with IBS after a diagnosis, many consider making short-term dietary changes to reduce FODMAPs. This can prove to be a significant change to diet, and as such should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional. FODMAP, short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, is the collective term for complex sugars that are difficult for the gut to absorb. Adopting a FODMAP diet or avoiding FODMAPs is sometimes recommended6 by dietitians to lessen the symptoms of IBS. What we put into the gut can have a huge impact on its condition and behaviour, particularly for those with a sensitive digestive tract. In terms of dietary changes, another option would be to…
4. Boost fibre intake to support wider gut health
There’s a real problem with fibre intake in the context of a healthy balanced diet. According to a study7, only 9% of adults obtain the recommended daily amount of fibre of 30g per day. For those aged 65 and over, that figure is just 7%. It’s important that wider gut health is taken into account alongside soothing solutions for IBS discomfort. Fibre is an important component8 in maintaining digestive health and can be a great way to look out for the wellbeing of the wider gastrointestinal system. Fibre can be one of the most powerful gut health tools in our diet. It keeps the digestive tract moving, as well as fuelling the essential gut bacteria that enable our bodies to function effectively.
- About IBS: Statistics
- The Microbiome and Irritable Bowel Syndrome – A review on the Pathophysiology, Current Research and Future Therapy
- NHS UK: Diet, lifestyle and medicines, Irritable bowel syndrome
- Remedial Yoga module improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: Replication in the Wait-list group and sustained improvements at 6 months,
- Relaxation Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review
- NHS UK: Further help and support
- National Diet and Nutrition Survey
- GI Society, Irritable Bowel Syndrome
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), better known and abbreviated as IBS, is a common gastro-intestinal condition that affects about 10-15% of people in the developed world. There is a large variation across countries and regions and it is more common in women than in men.
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