Top tips to combat irritable bowel syndrome

One doesn’t just wake up to IBS. It is a condition that builds over time, and there is always an underlying cause

By Luke Coutinho

Published: Thu 4 Aug 2022, 7:58 PM

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is exactly what it sounds like — irritable bowels. It is a condition that is plaguing millions of people across the world, and is characterised by a change in the frequency and kind of bowel movements, like diarrhoea or constipation, or a combination of both. Sometimes the stools are not well-formed, and sometimes they are. They can be sticky or hard and occur multiple times throughout the day. Besides that, there can also be extreme discomfort, cramping, flatulence, burps, acidity, bloating, and indigestion. In addition, many people complain of immense fatigue, restless nights, poor sleep quality, brain fog, recurrent headaches, confusion, and nutritional deficiencies (Vitamin B12 and iron) because of compromised gut health.

What leads to IBS?

One doesn’t just wake up to IBS. It is a condition that builds over time, and there is always an underlying cause. Just suppressing the symptoms, having stool softeners and antacids might suppress your symptoms, but it does nothing to address the root cause behind developing IBS. Take medicines if you have to, but it isn’t enough. Are you also addressing why your gut health is not functioning as it should?

The root cause

Besides poor nutrition, excess junk and sugar, lack of exercise and sleep deprivation, one thing we have picked up from our years of practice is the connection between IBS and chronic stress and anxiety. Almost 80 per cent of IBS cases are rooted in poor emotional health and stress. This is not about the daily focus of work, traffic, or your help not turning up at work. This is about chronic and deep-rooted stress.

How does stress affect your gut?

Our mind and gut have a hand-in-glove partnership. These two are connected through a network of nerves called the Enteric Nervous System. This means the health of one affects the other. Every thought that crosses our mind creates a ripple effect on our gut and vice versa. Ever experienced butterflies in the stomach before an exam? Now you’d know why!

So, when we experience anxiety, there are physiological changes that happen in the gut too. For example, inflammation rises, the gut microbiome is disturbed, bowel movement alters, and digestion slows. Many patients also have depression due to the same gut-brain connection, and the moment we start to work on their gut health, their depression starts to get better.

Lifestyle changes to adapt to IBS:

If you have been experiencing IBS, it is always better to address it in time. If it continues, it only creates more inflammation in the small and large intestine and leads to more complex conditions like leaky gut and eventually autoimmune conditions. In some cases, people also develop food sensitivities or allergies.

So, what can you do if you have IBS?

• Eliminate wheat and dairy: Not because it’s bad, but because your gut is too inflamed and weak to digest right now. Many people can digest these two without any difficulty and are healthy. So, there is nothing inherently wrong with wheat and dairy. Many people experience an improvement in their gut health as they eliminate the two foods.

• Do not underestimate the power of hydration: Seventy per cent of your body requires water to function. Even a 1 per cent drop in hydration can flare up your gut and create IBS-like symptoms. So spread out your water intake properly.

• Avoid too much fibre: Fibre is good, but too much can be bad for you. Just because fibre is healthy, loading up on it in the form of raw vegetable smoothies, large bowls of salad, and huge portions of stir fry can irritate the delicate linings of your gut health and create more inflammation. See if cutting down on fibre works for you.

• Pre- and probiotics: This is critical, especially if you have poor eating habits, as the wrong foods can deplete good gut bacteria. Consult a healthcare professional if you have to but get a good quality probiotic supplement. Prebiotics can come from natural sources like apple cider vinegar, onion, garlic, and so on. Be careful of fermented foods because they can trigger IBS symptoms in some individuals.

• Fix nutritional deficiencies: IBS leads to many nutritional deficiencies as the gut cannot absorb key vitamins and minerals that can help you feel better. While you work on improving your gut health, get your healthcare expert to prescribe you Vitamin B12 if you are low on it or a B-complex.

• Learn to manage your emotions: Address your emotional health. This is key to healing IBS. While stress is inevitable, your perception and how you address it can make all the difference. So learn to accept, let go,, meditate, practise silence, yoga, mindfulness, listen to music, or whatever helps diffuse stress.

Lastly, start maintaining a food diary. Your personal involvement in your healing journey will count. A food diary will help you identify foods that make you uncomfortable so you can start eliminating them, like peanuts or spicy foods.

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