Do you struggle with poop problems? Have you struggled with abdominal pain and bloating for years? If so you may be part of up to 12% of the population that suffers from IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition of the gastrointestinal tract that consists of a dysregulated microbiome and a hypersensitive enteric nervous system. Symptoms can range in any of the following: abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, mood disorders and fatigue. For some people these symptoms may be a mild inconvenience in their life but for others this can seriously impact their quality of life.
Let's take a look at a common scenario: Karen is in her freshman year of college and is taking a public speaking course. For her final project she has to speak in front of the entire class. The week leading up to the presentation she has persistent diarrhea, loss of appetite and nausea. The day of her presentation she has to skip breakfast so she doesn't have to use the bathroom in the middle of her speech. She gets up on stage. Her knees are like jello, her palms are clammy her mouth is dry, she's dizzy from not eating and then.... She runs to the bathroom and vomits. Try explaining IBS to the teacher. It's embarrassing. It's taboo to talk about poop problems even though we all do it.
For those who do bring it up to their healthcare provider, there are some medications that can help manage symptoms of IBS. Often the side effects are unpleasant, poorly tolerated, or simply don't work. Everyone's IBS symptoms are different and one treatment does not work across the board.
Lets break down the symptoms:
Abdominal pain/ bloating: It is important to find out the trigger and address it. Is it stress? Do you need to seek help from a counselor or therapist to learn how to manage the stress? Or perhaps pick up a hobby like meditation or exercise to manage anxiety. There are natural supplements that can soothe abdominal pain when it flares. These supplements include IBgard, peppermint oil, ginger lozenges or even chewing on a small piece of raw ginger, turmeric tea or peppermint tea. Low FODMAP diet can often be successful. Following low FODMAP diet long term can cause nutrient deficiencies so it is recommended to work closely with a nutritionist or dietician when removing large food groups from diet. The low FODMAP diet is meant to be a temporary measure that eventually leads to a slow introduction of the foods.
Diarrhea: Whether the diarrhea is coming from a hypersensitive brain-gut connection or if it's from the imbalance of microscopic bugs in your gut, adding in soluble fiber can help to slow things down a bit. Soluble fiber creates a gel once ingested which helps slow down digestion. Dietary sources of soluble fiber include:
Seeds (sunflower seeds, flax seed, chia seed)
Constipation: The same hypersensitive pathway that can cause diarrhea in IBS can cause the opposite in others making the gut slow down. The easiest way to get things moving again is to add in plenty of insoluble fiber and water. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and reduces the amount of time it takes for food to move through the digestive track.
It is essential to add extra water into diet when adding insoluble fiber. Otherwise, it can cause worsening constipation and abdominal pain
Dietary sources of insoluble fiber includes:
It is always best to get both soluble and insoluble fiber from dietary sources. Many fiber supplements will not provide the same degree of benefits, albeit they are better than nothing at all. So if you struggle to eat enough fiber each day, a fiber supplement can help bridge the gap and improve symptoms. It is important to note that increasing your fiber intake too quickly can can worsening gastrointestinal upset so incorporate slowly. The table below outlines some of the benefits and uses of different fiber supplements.
Mood disorders and fatigue: The hormones in our brain that affect our moods are dispersed primarily from the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, over 90% of all our circulating serotonin is produced in the gut. When the gut is imbalanced our moods and energy levels are greatly affected. Some simple lifestyle modifications can greatly impact not only our mood and energy levels but also contribute to a more balanced gut. These things include:
Alcohol moderation- excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to result in dysbiosis, increased intestinal permeability and increased risk for intestinal cancers.
Exercise- regular moderate exercise can promote anti- inflammatory effects in the intestinal tract, improves mood, helps control appetite and improves sleep. Our bodies were made to move!
Sleep- There has been a link found between poor sleep and the increase of pro- inflammatory cytokines that cause inflammation in the gut. Getting on a routine sleep and wake cycle can have a direct impact on your IBS symptoms.
Yoga/ meditation- Research has proven that a regular meditative or yoga practice can alleviate digestive symptoms. When our mind is anxious, our gut is anxious. Doing activities like yoga and meditation help not only calm the mind but also calm the gut.
Hydration- Your body may require more fluid than you are giving it. The simple act of increasing water intake can improve energy levels and brain fog without making any other changes.
Living with IBS may take some changes to your current routine. You as the individual need to find what works for you. This may take some time as you try different supplements and lifestyle modifications.
The information in this article is designed for educational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical care or advice. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health problems without consulting a healthcare practitioner.