Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) according to the IBS Network, is a chronic disorder of gastrointestinal function with no well-defined structural or biochemical cause. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, urgency to go to the loo or constipation. Some people experience more constipation with it, for others, diarrhoea is the main symptoms and some unfortunate people alternate between both which can be quite frustrating to manage!
Anyone can have gut symptoms, whether it was a bug, a dodgy prawn cocktail or too many alchololic cocktails, not many of us have NEVER experienced altered bowel habits over a short period of time.
Interestingly the most common causes for IBS are:
Post infectious IBS (I include myself in that category following a horrendous episode of campylobacter food poisioning on holiday a decade ago)
Antibiotics: Multiple courses of antibiotics to treat infections can cause a depleted colonic microbiome (bacteria that populate the gut) of course if you need them due to serious illness, they are great. Absolutely reliable killers of dangerous pathogens and every other bacteria...... even the good stuff, which is the problem.
Post traumatic IBS : Some people feel their IBS was triggered after a stressful or traumatic event. Scientists have recently discovered much more about the connection between the brain and our bellies. They call it the gut-brain axis and its now thought there is a strong link between the two. Unsurprisingly, stress can increase bowel sensitivity and worsen IBS symptoms.
Diet is a well recognised intervention to help manage symptoms although for many people this takes time to investigate and eliminate various foods over a period of time. Some sufferers avoid gluten, others lactose or some go full steam ahead with the FODMAP diet (Fermentable Oilgosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols!) Phew a real mouthful, or not in the case when you are avoiding them (low fodmap diet) Speaking from personal experience I found it completely joyless and felt that living with my mild-ish symptoms was better than avoiding garlic, onions and practically everything I cook with! That said if I listen to my Dad, he feels his IBS has disappeared entirely with adhering to the strict avoidance diet. However it is always highlighted that the low FODMAP diet is a temporary one, like giving your poor gut a rest then gradually sneaking suspect foods back in, one at a time to check ensuing side effects.
I attended a fascinating conference in Sheffield recently exploring the self-management of IBS. This was run by the IBS Network who are a great resource if you have symptoms. One of the Dietitian's there discussed the use of a food app for such diets, its called FoodMaestro and may be worth a look if you are contemplating on going down the FODMAP route. There are also an abundance of good FODMAP cookbooks (as used currently by my Dad!) which at least give you some ideas of what you can have and how to make them tasty with limited ingredients.
It is worth getting the help of your GP or a referral to a Gastrointestinal Dr if your symptoms are impacting on your daily life. Its also a good idea to look at the NICE guidelines which were updated last year to reflect different treatment options including diet, medication and psychological interventions. Interestingly Hypnotherapy does get a mention as does CBT or even alternative medicines such as reflexology or acupuncture. These would deal with the psychological elements of the condition and due to its chronicity, its something that may improve sufferers daily life.
Fodmap diet cookbook by Penny Doyle
The Fodmap friendly kitchen by Emma Hatcher
Giula Enders best seller GUT., published by Scribe 2016.
Why not try out one of my free audios to help with stress and anxiety symptoms which could be triggering your IBS?