Tips to Get The Better of IBS
If you are one of the one in seven adults who suffers from IBS you will be very familiar with it’s troublesome symptoms of abdominal bloating, pain, wind and altered bowel habit. Although the condition is not ‘life-threatening’ it has an amazing and irritating ability to interfere with getting on with life. Here are our top tips from our Private GP surgery in Parsons Green to help you regain control of your life.
Low FODMAPS Diet: Changing diet is a very appealing way to help IBS symptoms for both patients and doctors. FODMAPs stands for fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosacchairdes And Polyols. These are types of sugars which ferment in the bowel resulting in production of gas leading to bloating and pain. This diet has been found to be effective in reducing the symptoms of IBS, particularly in patients who suffer from loose bowel motions. The diet is not intuitive but an excellent list of foods to include and exclude is available from Stanford University. There is also a fantastic app from Monash University which explains the diet and helps with supermarket shopping and menu ideas. Beneficial results can be expected within 4 weeks.
Probiotics: A probiotic is a living microorganism that benefits health when consumed in the right amount. It is thought that they may help patients with IBS by reducing the sensitivity of the gut and moderating inflammation in the bowel. Probiotics when consumed regularly for at least four weeks have been found to have a beneficial effect on symptoms of IBS. Many of the studies were carried out on different strains of probiotics so it is difficult to ascertain which is the optimum. However, it does seem that bifidobacteria perform consistently well.
Peppermint Oil: This traditional remedy has been found to be particularly effective for symptoms of pain and loose bowel motions. It works by helping relax the smooth muscle in the bowel.
Exercise: A study in Sweden has demonstrated that patients who performed 20-60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on 3 to 5 days per week had an improvement in their IBS symptoms compared to controls.
Sprinkle Ground Linseeds on Your Morning Oats: Linseeds, or Flaxseeds, as they are known across the pond, are an excellent source of soluble fibre and omega-3. These fibre-rich seeds are particularly useful for reducing symptoms of bloating and wind.
Reduce Caffeine: The caffeine found in tea and coffee can act as a stimulant to the gut. Not helpful in IBS patients in whom the gut is already sensitive. Patients with IBS frequently find that reducing caffeine intake has a beneficial effect on symptoms.
Reduce Stress: Think for a moment about a stressful event in your life such as a job interview, exam or big presentation. It is very common in the lead up to such events to have abdominal pain, bloating, wind and altered bowel habit. In other words, all the usual symptoms of IBS. It’s easy to see that there is an intimate link between stress and our gut. We can help reduce the effect of stress but to do this we need to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that helps us “rest and digest.” There are many ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and it is really dependent on what each individual finds relaxing. For some it may be things such as yoga (which also has the advantage of doubling up the beneficial effect of exercise), mindful meditation or breathing exercises. Other people may find other pursuits such as reading a book or chatting to friends work best. The key is to find what works best for you.
Try Gluten Free: Eagle-eyed people may have noticed there is a considerable overlap between gluten-free and low FODMAP diets. It is increasingly recognised that many people who do not have Coeliac disease have intolerance to wheat or gluten. If you have had Coeliac disease or wheat allergy excluded by blood testing it may still be worth excluding gluten from your diet for a 4-week trial to see if your symptoms improve. If the trial is successful, the key then is to see if reintroduction of gluten causes a return of symptoms.
IBS is not something that people should expect to just have to “put up with.” Some self-experimentation is often required to find what works best for you. Try some or all of these tips to empower you to take control of your IBS and life live to the full.
Dr Hugh Coyne,