The 4-1-1 on IBS

A sensitive topic for many to discuss but something that nearly 42 million Americans live with, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal ailment that causes painful and uncomfortable symptoms. While no specific cause is known and there is no way for doctors to make a definitive diagnosis, it is certain that food plays an important role in the treatment and management of this disorder. Best Food Facts Registered Dietitian Sarah Downs provides some insight into IBS and how proper nutrition can help control symptoms related to IBS.

What Is It?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder – not a disease because it does not cause any damage to the GI tract and can be controlled with diet and lifestyle changes. Common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, cramping, constipation or diarrhea, and bloating. It is unknown what causes IBS, but there may be several triggers that contribute to IBS. The top culprits are food choices and stress. The good news is that through diet changes, stress management and a healthy active lifestyle, IBS can be successfully controlled.

Tips to Help Manage IBS: Different for Everyone!

Every case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is different, therefore, the best way to manage it is by finding out what causes episodes and how to minimize and eliminate them. Here are a few tips and tricks that may be helpful for some:

1. Keep a food journal to help identify foods that trigger symptoms

Documenting what you have been eating during flare-ups can help you figure out what you may be eating that’s causing a problem.

2. Establish regular eating habits

Eating at regular times helps regulate your bowels.

3. Manage stress

Numerous studies and healthcare professionals agree that stress can be a trigger for IBS flare-ups. Because the colon contains nerves that connect to the brain, stress can stimulate spasms in the colon, causing discomfort and pain. Exercise is a great way to manage stress and can help stimulate normal contractions of the intestines.

4. Slowly introduce fiber-rich foods into the diet

Fiber is important because it helps move food through the intestines but it can be a mixed blessing. While it does help to prevent constipation, it can also make gas and bloating worse. Choose foods like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, but go slowly. Gradually increasing the amount of fiber in your diet over a few weeks can help ease the side effects. And remember, fiber’s best friend is water, so be sure you are staying hydrated during this process!

5. Drink enough fluids and be mindful of what you are drinking

Constipation is a common symptom of IBS and can be alleviated by proper hydration. Be careful of the drinks you choose. Alcohol and caffeine stimulate your intestines and may cause diarrhea, carbonated drinks may cause gas, and artificial sweeteners may also cause diarrhea. Water is the best choice!

6. Low FODMAP Diet and IBS

Growing evidence has shown that a low FODMAP diet that restricts certain natural sugars in foods can dramatically improve symptoms associated with IBS. FODMAP stands for a group of natural sugars – fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These include fructose, found in fruits, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup; fructans, found in wheat, onions, and garlic; galactans in beans, lentils, and legumes; polyols in sweeteners and certain fruits; and lactose in dairy.

The thought is that FODMAPs are poorly digested in the intestine and, when fermented by gut bacteria, can cause many uncomfortable GI symptoms. Typically, these specific sugars are removed from the diet for a few weeks and are then added back gradually, one at a time, to determine the foods that can be tolerated.

There is a lot more to learn about following a low-FODMAP diet and its role in IBS, but many doctors and patients are seeing positive results. It is crucial to work with your doctor and dietitian before beginning this dietary change as it is a very individualized approach that can be overwhelming without any support.

Team Approach

It is important to work with your doctor and a registered dietitian because treatment for IBS is very specific to the individual. Working with a team of medical professionals can help manage your symptoms and find solutions that work best for you.

To find a registered dietitian in your area, click here.

day 045.” by Holly Lay is licensed under CC BY 2.0