Irritable bowel syndrome is diagnosed by medical doctors when there is no detectable pathology of the bowel, yet there is some sort of functional disturbance resulting in compromised digestive function.
It may be good news to learn that there is no bowel disease present, yet it can be very frustrating when you are told that IBS is unexplainable and that nothing can be done. There is usually a trigger involved. Nutrition looks at the bigger picture and aims to unravel the reasons behind this common condition.
- Bloating, discomfort and wind
- Alternating bouts of diarrhoea and constipation
- Frequent or loose bowel movements
- Painful bowel movements
- Pain relieved by bowel movement
- Abdominal distention, spasms and spasms
- Mucus in stool
Possible IBS triggers
It’s common for IBS symptoms to come and go. Often something triggers an IBS episode.
- Trauma or surgery
- Medication side effects and drug use
- Changes in diet
- Chronic infection
- Menstrual problems in women
What causes IBS?
There are many reasons why the digestive system may not be functioning at its best. Diet, emotional and lifestyle factors have a huge influence. Drugs such as antibiotics deplete the friendly bacteria in the colon, which may lead to an unhealthy environment and compromised digestive function. Often the gut lining becomes irritated by drugs or particular foods.
- Sucrose, fructose intolerance. Many IBS sufferers cannot breakdown these sugars, which will then ferment into irritating substances to the gut lining.
- Dysbiosis. Imbalanced friendly bacteria and sometimes an infection of clostridium difficile (indicated by high levels of methane in a hydrogen breath test).
- Food intolerances and sensitivities. Very common in IBS. The usual suspects are wheat, dairy, corn, tea, coffee, chocolate and citrus fruits.
- Lactose intolerance. Many people improve when dairy is removed from their diet.
- Psychological connection. Many IBS sufferers also have sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, stress and fatigue.
- Constipation. Usually indicative of low fibre intake, dehydration, food intolerance, poor liver and gallbladder function and lack of bowel tone and motility.
- Mucus in stool. Can be a result of chewing too quickly or low levels of the enzyme pepsin (activated by stomach acid).
- Diarrhoea. Commonly due to food intolerances, particularly wheat and dairy.
- Identify and eliminate food intolerances.
- Wheat and dairy are prime suspects.
- Supplement with digestive enzymes and HCL/Pepsin at each meal.
- Supplement with probiotics to restore optimal gut flora status. The friendly bacteria help us digest and absorb our nutrients, reduce inflammation, promote healthy bowel movements, as well as keeping the cells of the gut lining healthy.
- Increase good fats such as oily fish, flax oil, raw ground seeds, avocado and olive oil. These fats are anti-inflammatory and help build quality cel membranes. Avoid processed fats, margarine, saturated fats. Consider supplementing with a quality fish oil.
- Increase fibre by eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and salads. Use soluble fibres such as oats and apples rather than bran (an insoluble fibre), as it can be irritating to the gut lining.
- Supplement with a good multivitamin and mineral to correct nutrient deficiencies. Sublingual nutrients (liquid formulas placed under the tongue) will ensure maximum absorption when digestion is compromised.
- Certain herbs such as chamomile, fennel, peppermint and ginger can be used as teas for their calming and anti-spasmodic effects.
- Aloe vera and slippery elm may be useful for their soothing action on the digestive tract.
- Avoid large meals to ensure not taxing the digestive system.
- Eat whole, unrefined, nutrient dense foods in their natural state.
- Avoid fatty, spicy and greasy foods as these irritate the gut lining.
- Minimize sugar intake as sugar increases inflammation.
- Eat in a relaxed, conscious manner away from distraction. Chew, chew, chew!
- Address your stress. Digestion is negatively affected by stress, anxiety and unresolved tension.
Article by Jo Rowkins dipNT MBANT, nutritionist, founder of awakening health and executive health adviser of The Spa Resorts.