It is estimated that about 10-15% of the world’s population has Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Despite the fact that it is actually quite a common condition, many people with IBS are uncomfortable discussing it openly with others, which means that the information surrounding it does not flow as freely between people as it might with other conditions. Science has yet to develop a cure for IBS, but there are a number of things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms.
Stomach pain and cramps are common symptoms of IBS, which could be brought on by either a small amount of gas in the stomach, or the movements of the intestines themselves. People with IBS have more sensitive nerves in this region, so it doesn’t take much to induce pain. Applying a heat source such as a hot water bottle can relax the area, both alleviating and preventing pain.
Another way to achieve this is to inject heat straight into the source of the pain by having a hot drink. But rather than having a coffee, which could exacerbate the situation because of the caffeine content, herbal teas can provide heat as well as soothe the stomach. Anise and fennel teas are both believed to be good choices but, although it is unclear exactly why, multiple studies have proven peppermint tea to be one of the most effective choices for relieving stomach pain.
3. Food Diary
Conditions like IBS often vary considerably from person to person, with some people experiencing near-constant symptoms, while others experience them at seemingly random intervals. Similarly, different things will cause the symptoms to flare up in different people, with the most obvious triggers being the stuff we put directly into our stomachs. In order to best understand your specific situation, you should keep a food diary and take note of when you experience the symptoms. That way, you can begin to identify any trends and adjust your diet accordingly.
4. Elimination Diet
Whether it arises from your food diary or just your own intuition, you will need to do some home-science and eliminate any foods you suspect may be triggering your IBS. To do this properly, you should eliminate one suspect at a time for 8 weeks, before reintroducing it, and seeing if it made a difference.
5. Avoid “Gassy” Foods
Certain types of food are much more likely to produce gas than others, but it’s not just beans that should be avoided. Foods that are high in starch, such as potatoes or pasta, have been linked to increased gas in the large intestine, as has lactose, and fructose, the natural sugar found in many fruits and some vegetables. Click here to see a comprehensive list of foods to consider avoiding.
People who have IBS often experience a lot of stress and anxiety regarding the condition. Unfortunately, it happens to be a condition that is exacerbated by stress. In order to avoid falling into a cyclical pattern of stress, you should find an activity that helps you relieve it, such as yoga or meditation.
Although the symptoms of IBS may put you off the idea of exercising, regular low-intensity workouts have been shown to benefit the functionality of the digestive tract. As mentioned earlier, the pain associated with IBS could be caused in part by intestinal movement, so gently encouraging it to move can loosen it up, not unlike a muscle.
8. Monitor Your Fibre
Regardless of your specific symptoms, your fibre intake probably plays a role in how they manifest. Both constipation and diarrhea are common symptoms of IBS, and both are strongly linked to fibre: too much can cause constipation, while too little can lead to diarrhea. If you experience either of these regularly, adjust your fibre intake accordingly and monitor the effects.
9. Eat Properly
Eating properly doesn’t just mean eating healthy food, it also means kicking the bad habits that we have all developed with regards to how we eat. Try to stick to a proper schedule rather than just going for food whenever you feel hungry, eat smaller portions, and be sure to chew your food properly before swallowing. Even just these few steps can take a lot of stress off your stomach, and could reduce the prevalence of your symptoms.
10. FODMAP Diet
The final piece of advice is the one that has the most scientific research to back it up. FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols”, which is a lot more difficult to pronounce than “FODMAP”. These are all types of molecules that are found in many common food items, and have been shown to exacerbate IBS. The FODMAP diet involves eliminating these food items, and then reintroducing them gradually. For a detailed breakdown of the FODMAP diet, see our blog on FODMAP for IBS.
Not all of these tips will necessarily work for every person, but by experimenting and trying different techniques, you can figure out which ones work for you, and start to get a better understanding of your personal case. IBS is a condition that varies considerably from person to person, so you should view it as somewhat unique to you, and do as much as you can to understand it.