April is IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) awareness month, making it a great time to talk about this condition – especially as it affects 10-20% of UK adults.
In my work as a dietitian I see lots of people with IBS, and I know how frustrating it can be, thanks to a lack of treatment options. It’s important to realise that IBS is what is known as a chronic condition – meaning that it something that continues in the long-term. This doesn’t mean spending the whole time in pain or discomfort though! Lots of people with IBS can go for months or even years with their symptoms well controlled.
At other times, during stressful periods, or after a period of travel or a tummy bug, symptoms can become aggravated. Because IBS isn’t something that will just go away with a pill, it’s worth investing a bit of time and energy learning about how you can manage it. Here are my top ten tips, as seen on Female First.
Get It Diagnosed
Tempting as it is to self-diagnose (yep, we’ve all visited Dr. Google), it’s important to make sure your symptoms are down to IBS, because bloating, tummy pain or a change in your poo can be a sign of other conditions including coeliac disease and Crohn’s.
A visit to your G.P. and a simple blood test will help to determine whether it is IBS, helping to get you on the right path to managing your symptoms. Don’t fret about discussing poo with your G.P. – I promise they’ve heard it all before. If you can, take a symptom diary to help explain what you’re experiencing.
Know your IBS- type
Not all IBS is the same – different types require different treatments. Knowing your type will help you manage your symptoms more effectively.
IBS-C (constipation) describes tummy pain and infrequent (less than 3 times a week), hard or lumpy poos. IBS-D (diarrhoea) is tummy pain with loose and watery poos. If your poo alternates between the two, you’re in the IBS-M (mixed) camp.
Make the caffeine switch
If your latte habit is stronger than Arnie’s bicep, it’s time for a rethink. Caffeine is a natural laxative and can make IBS-D and heartburn worse. Stick to no more than 2 caffeinated drinks per day (tea, coffee, cola), swapping in caffeine free options – say help to rooibos, peppermint or lemon and ginger.
Bin the booze
Boozy nights might be fun but they can worsen tummy pain and trigger loose stools. A max of 1-2 drinks at a time is advised, with 1-2 booze free nights a week – good for your belly, good for your body.
Boost your helpful gut bacteria
Your large intestine is home to trillions of helpful bacteria that help break down food and control immune function. Scientists have found that the balance of helpful bacteria in people with IBS tends to be disrupted, and this may be the cause of some symptoms.
Probiotics can help to restore the balance putting more of the helpful bacteria in your gut. In an independent study led by scientists at Kings College, Symprove (a liquid multi-strain probiotic) was found to improve pain, bloating and bowel habits in IBS-sufferers over the 12-week programme.
Fibre up or down
Fibre helps us poo – but for people with IBS it isn’t always helpful. Eating lots more fibre can make gas worse, so choosing the right sort is important.
If you have IBS-C, upping some types of fibre intake can help. Try oats for breakfast, snack on fruits (bananas, berries, kiwi, oranges and pineapple are IBS-friendly) or supplement with linseeds (up to 2 tbsp. per day). If you are increasing your fibre intake, do so slowly over the space of a few weeks and make sure you drink plenty of water – without water, fibre can’t do its job.
If on the other diarrhoea is the issue, reducing your fibre intake can help – choose lower fibre cereals (this might means switching to white pasta and rice), reducing fibre from beans and raw veggies, and avoiding skins, pips, and peels.
Swap Gassy Veggies
Beans beans the musical fruit, the more you eat the more you…toot. As much as you might love burritos and hummus, beans, peas lentils and other veggies (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and onions) tend to produce lots of gas, which can cause bloating and pain for people with IBS.
Switch these favourites for less windy veggies like spinach, kale, carrots and Mediterranean stars – tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes.
Stress doesn’t just frazzle brains; it can also play havoc with our digestion, as stress hormones are picked up by your tum, and can trigger IBS-symptoms. Exercise is helpful as it frees up mental space and can counteract stress hormones. Build in time to relax each day, and check out the brilliant tips for building resilience over at Mind.
Side-Step Fatty And Spicy Foods
A spicy pepperoni pizza might hit the spot, but fatty and spicy foods are have been linked with a reported increase in IBS-symptoms. Go easy on both, by easing up on chilli, curries, hot spices and high fat meals (we’re talking fried foods, high fat meats and creamy dishes).
Go Low (FODMAP)
If you’ve cut back on problem foods (caffeine, booze, fatty and spicy foods) but you’re still finding your tum is unsettled, the low FODMAP diet could help. FODMAPs are groups of carbohydrates that can trigger boating pain and loose stools when eaten in large amounts. The Low FODMAP diet has been shown to be effective in around 75% of sufferers, making it one of the best dietary treatments we have. Find out more about how it can help over at the Gut Stuff or tune into my latest venture, the Gut Loving Podcast