Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS is a very common gut disorder and is estimated to affect one in five Irish people. It affects both men and women and can occur in people of all ages. It is known as a functional gut disorder as no physical abnormalities are seen but changes in function occur. This results in symptoms which include abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, belching, diarrhoea and constipation. IBS is broadly defined into two categories:
IBS-C in which constipation predominates
IBS-D in which diarrhoea predominates
However, a person can suffer from both diarrhoea and constipation.
It is not fully understood what causes IBS - it’s quite possibly a number of interrelated factors such as gut bacteria imbalances known as dysbiosis, genetics, diet, chronic stress- which all culminate to a person having a hypersensitive gut.
IBS is a condition that when you get a diagnosis, you can be left feeling a little lost. What next? While there are medications to help treat symptoms of IBS such as antispasmodics for spasms, there is no cure in the form of a pill. Luckily, IBS can be managed if treated correctly. Nutrition, lifestyle and supplementation can all play vital roles in IBS management. So what’s involved?
1) Identify possible dietary triggers
There are so many different foods and beverages that can cause IBS flare ups from commonly known trigger such as coffee, alcohol, spicy food, beans and dairy to less known culprits such as artificial sweeteners (yes protein bars we’re looking at you!), onions, garlic and avocado. The best way to identify triggers is through keeping a food and symptom diary for 3-5 days. Identifying triggers is only the first step - the next is seeing what personal tolerance levels are like, how much of the food can be kept in and to what extent it should be avoided. This process, especially when elimination of foods is involved, should always be done under the guidance of a qualified nutritionist to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.
2) Look at fibre intake
Intakes of fibre that are too high or too low can aggravate IBS symptoms such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. If intakes are low and constipation is an issue, fibre should be gradually increased alongside increased water intake.