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The Ultimate Guide to IBS

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The Ultimate Guide to IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract, well known for causing recurring symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.  

If you have IBS, the condition may be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but know that you’re not alone – about 10% of the world’s population has it, too. [1] And while the symptoms can be present for a long time, they can be managed.  

In this IBS guide, we’ll dive deep into the symptoms and causes of IBS, and discuss helpful tips for how to ensure IBS doesn’t take over your life. 

How digestion works 

First, let’s talk about where it all starts: digestion. Once you swallow your food, it travels along the digestive tract. 

Large molecules of food are broken down into smaller molecules that can be used as fuel for the body. Nutrients are released as food is broken down by enzymes, digestive acids, and through mechanical means (i.e., chewing).  

Most nutrient absorption happens in the small intestine, and much of the water content of food is reabsorbed in the large intestine (colon). Given the scope of the journey through the digestive tract, it’s not surprising that many things can go awry.  

 IBS Call-Out

This can lead to a range of digestive issues, including conditions such as IBS. There can be many different causes of digestive disorders, including dehydration, not getting enough of the right type of fibre, and not getting sufficient exercise.  

What are the symptoms of IBS? 

As we first mentioned in this blog, symptoms include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. Additional symptoms include: 

  • Cramps  

  • Irregular bowel movements, including constipation or a combination of both diarrhea and constipation  

  • Gas  

  • Mucus around or within the stool   

  • Nausea  

  • Heartburn  

What Causes IBS?

What causes IBS? 

The precise cause of IBS is unknown, but several factors have been linked to the condition, including:  

Altered muscle contractions in the intestine 

Digested food moves through the intestines by coordinated intestinal muscle contractions (also known as peristalsis).  

But if you have IBS, these contractions might be longer and stronger than normal, leading to diarrhea.  

On the opposite end of the spectrum, IBS can also be associated with weaker and shorter contractions, which can slow down digestion and lead to constipation. 

Inflammation 

People with IBS may have altered immune system function in the colon, which can contribute to inflammation. Genetic factors, past bowel infections, food allergies, and/or changes to the gut microbiota can all play a role in inflammation.  

Gut infection 

Previous bacterial or viral infections that cause severe diarrhea or bacterial overgrowth can lead to IBS symptoms. 

Bacterial imbalance 

Too few “good” bacteria and too many “bad” bacteria in the gut can impact immune function, inflammation, digestion, and nutrient synthesis, all of which contribute to IBS symptoms.  

Nervous system 

The gut and brain are in constant communication, so nerve activity can contribute to IBS symptoms. For some people with IBS, abnormalities in the enteric (digestive) nervous system can cause nerves to become unusually sensitive. This may lead to discomfort as the digestive tract stretches. Problems with nerve signalling and processing can also interfere with normal digestive function, leading to pain, diarrhea, or constipation. [2] 

How to ease IBS symptoms 

Managing your IBS symptoms can help improve your quality of life. Here are seven ways to ease IBS symptoms:   

Low-FODMAP Foods

1. Try a low-FODMAP diet  

FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates found in certain grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. Many people find that avoiding high-FODMAP foods can help relieve IBS symptoms. The low-FODMAP diet was first created by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Through their research, they have quantified the FODMAP of hundreds of foods.   

 2. Avoid food triggers 

Spicy foods, gluten, carbonated drinks, alcohol, caffeine, raw fruit, and some cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) may worsen IBS symptoms. Remove these from your diet for a minimum of three weeks and reintroduce them one at a time to help you identify food triggers.   

 3. Drink plenty of water 

Stay hydrated to help ease IBS symptoms, especially constipation caused by hard, dry stools.  

4. Counselling, mindfulness, and/or biofeedback 

Using any of these techniques can help develop effective coping strategies to reduce the impact of stress – a key factor in many cases of IBS. [3]  

5. Peppermint tea or other herbal teas 

Peppermint tea may offer support for individuals with IBS symptoms such as excess gas and bloating.  

6. Exercise regularly 

Staying physically active can help relieve stress, support mood, and encourage normal intestinal muscle contractions.  

IBS Support Probiotic and the right fibre4

7. Supplements 

A probiotic specifically designed for IBS support can help restore and replenish beneficial bacteria to support healthy digestive function. A soluble fibre supplement such as the right fibre4® (Monash University low-FODMAP certified) can also help improve bowel regularity, reduce diarrhea, and provide overall relief of symptoms.

Takeaway

IBS can have a huge impact on your life. But with the right methods to manage your symptoms, you’ll find that your quality of life can significantly improve.

WN

Webber Naturals

We are nutritionists, health professionals, and content creators committed to bringing you the finest health and lifestyle content to help you live your best life, naturally.

[1] Moayyedi P, Andrews CN, MacQueen G, et al. Canadian Association of Gastroenterology clinical practice guideline for the management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). J Can Assoc Gastroenterol. 2019; 2(1):6-29.

[2] Saha L. Irritable bowel syndrome: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and evidence-based medicine. World J Gastroenterol. 2014; 20(22):6759-73.

[3] Farmer AD, Wood E, Ruffle JK. An approach to the care of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. CMAJ. 2020; 192(11):E275-82

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