Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a blanket term used to describe a common disorder that affects the large intestine and results in the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea or constipation; or a combination of both
IBS is a chronic condition that is usually well managed with long-term lifestyle changes, but it should not be confused with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, Colitis, Diverticulitis, or colon cancer.
If you have struggled with any unusual bowel symptoms for more than a few weeks, it is best to have further testing with a gastroenterologist. Typical tests for the lower bowel include colonoscopies or stool testing, and sometimes biopsies or blood tests. When these tests come back clear and no reason can be established for bowel irritability or discomfort, IBS is typically diagnosed.
The cause of IBS is unknown, but factors that can play a role include:
- Dysfunctional muscle contractions – the intestines have a muscular layer which contracts as food passes through the gut. If the contractions are too strong and frequent it can result in diarrhea, gas, or bloating, whereas weaker contractions can slow the transit time resulting in hard, dry stools.
- Nervous system disruptions – the gut comprises several nerves which can increase pain sensations when the abdomen is distended due to gas or the accumulation of fecal matter. When the brain and the intestines don’t communicate effectively our bodies can respond atypically to normal digestive processes and we can experience unpleasant symptoms.
- Infections – bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens can trigger IBS.
- Stress – When we are stressed our fight or flight response is triggered and the rest and digest function is neglected by the body for as long as the stress response is activated. Long-term stress disrupts the intestinal bacteria and can result in dysbiosis. Psychological stress is shown to impact gut sensitivity, motility, and permeability via the gut-brain axis. It’s also interesting to note that stress in childhood can increase a person’s chances of developing IBS.
- Abnormal gut microbes – Unfriendly gut bacteria, yeasts, parasites, and fungi disrupt the balance in the gut and can give off toxins and by products that exacerbate IBS symptoms.
For IBS, dietary changes and stress management can be life changing.
There is a difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Most people with IBS have multiple food intolerances.
The most common foods that trigger IBS symptoms include:
- Gluten grains such as wheat, rye, and barley
- Dairy products – some people can get away with eliminating lactose only, but many people are sensitive to the casein in dairy as well
- Sulfurous veggies such as garlic, onion, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
- Legumes – beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas
- Fizzy drinks
Supplements that can be helpful to assist the digestive processes and soothe the gut lining include:
- Digestive enzymes taken with meals
- L-Glutamine taken away from meals
- Licorice root extract
- Probiotics or spore biotics
Herbal teas teas such as peppermint, chamomile, fennel, and ginger can also be helpful digestive aids.
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 4 November 2021 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am