IBS Awareness Month: What is IBS?

WHAT IS IBS?

IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is a common diagnosis and has a broad spectrum of symptoms. For this reason, health professionals divide IBS into 3 sub-categories, to help focus treatment more effectively. These sub-categories are:

• IBS-C – Irritable Bowel Syndrome where the main bowel symptom is constipation

• IBS-D – Irritable Bowel Syndrome where the main bowel symptom is diarrhoea

• IBS-M – Irritable Bowel Syndrome with a mixed bowel symptom – most often alternating between constipation and diarrhoea.

The other most common IBS symptoms include:

• Bloating

• Pain

• Spasm

• Wind

• Cramping

• Fatigue

Irritable bowel is often regarded as a ‘minor’ complaint but, for those who suffer, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, IBS can affect people’s quality of life: It can lead to stress and anxiety; it can impact their ability to socialise; and those with IBS tend to have more days lost to illness.

Another problem with IBS, is that bowel problems still invite a lot of embarrassment for sufferers: Nearly 1 in 5 people say they would be embarrassed to talk to their GP about their bowel problems.

HOW CAN WE SUPPORT IBS?

Because IBS has such a broad range of symptoms, and because different people suffer in different ways, there is no one-size-fits-all solution: No single product or list of guidelines will help everyone. However, as a rule, anyone with IBS could benefit from taking on board the following suggestions:

• Eat slowly – Ensure that you chew your food thoroughly and effectively. This helps to stimulate the digestive system properly, ensuring proper digestion of food. Eating too quickly can result in poor digestion, wind and bloating.

• Eat more bitter flavoured foods – Bitter flavours, from foods such as radicchio, chicory and rocket, help to support the production of digestive enzymes, thus supporting better digestion.

• Stay hydrated – For those who suffer with diarrhoea, this is important because diarrhoea can deplete important minerals and leave us dehydrated. For those with constipation, water is equally important as it helps to provide lubrication for the bowel.

• Focus on cooked and easy to digest foods – Whilst it is true that raw foods and salads are good for us, they are not very easy to digest. Focusing on steamed vegetable, soups and stews will make life easier on the digestive system. Also, try not to eat too much bread and pasta, as these are also hard to break down: Choose more rice and potato as your carbohydrate sources.

• Consider a specific good bacteria supplement – Probiotics are well known for being beneficial for bowel complaints. Broad-spectrum good bacteria supplements have been reported by many as helpful for reducing symptoms. However, these days there are better, more specific probiotic combinations available. Over our next few blogs, I will explain how to use specific good bacteria to help each specific IBS type.

There are also more specific suggestions which may benefit those suffering with IBS-C or IBS-D – look out for future instalments of this blog series in the coming weeks!

Written by Jenny Logan DNMed (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has worked with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years.)

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