What Is IBS?
First off, what is IBS? IBS is short for irritable bowel syndrome. It is a chronic condition that is characterized by symptoms of diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, bloating, and abdominal pain.
It is currently estimated that 10 to 20% of the world’s population experience IBS. Studies report that women and people under the age of 50 are experiencing higher rates of IBS, with Canada reporting one of the highest rates of IBS across the globe. Additionally, research has shown that women with IBS are more likely to experience symptoms during their periods.
Types of IBS
IBS is can be categorized based on the dominant symptoms. In IBS-C, the main symptom is constipation, while in IBS-D the main symptom is diarrhea. Some people may experience a combination of both diarrhea and constipation which is referred to as IBS-mixed. Other individuals may have a variety of dominant symptoms, which is referred to as undefined IBS or IBS-U.
Causes of IBS
IBS can develop at any point in our lives. However, we do not fully know why some people develop IBS in the first place. However, there are many possible causes including,
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Oversensitive nerves in your gut
- Physical, mental or emotional stress
- Food moving too quickly or too slowly through your gut
- Family history of IBS
What Happens to Your Body with IBS
Aside from unpleasant GI symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome can impact many aspects of your health and can cause some of the following,
Stomach Pain and Cramping
Many people with IBS experience strong pain and cramping in their stomach area after eating meals. This may be the result of changes in pressure in the stomach, such as bloating.
Change in the Movement of Food Through Your Gut
With IBS, there is a change in the speed that food moves through the digestive tract. When food moves more slowly through your gut, your can experience abnormal contractions of the digestive tract, which may lead to constipation or diarrhea.
Change in the Bacteria Living in Your Gut
There are millions of bacteria which live in your gut. These bacteria produce vitamins and short-chain fatty acids and support your immune system. Everyone has a unique combination of bacteria in their gut. Changes in the bacteria living in your gut can impact your symptoms of IBS.
Increased Communication Along the Gut-Brain Axis
The gut-brain axis is the term used to describe the communication system between your digestive tract (gut) and your brain. In IBS, there is an increase in the number of signals sent between your gut and brain. Research suggests that this increase in signalling may be caused by a change in the bacteria living in your gut.
Current Treatment for IBS
Currently, there are a few approaches that are used to treat irritable bowel syndrome. These include,
- There are some medications which are used in the treatment of IBS. However, these medications temporarily treat your symptoms, rather than the cause of your IBS.
- Probiotic supplements are a newer approach but may be beneficial for some people
Dietary Changes for IBS
As you may already know, your diet can play a role in the management of IBS. Nutrients in your diet can influence the types, and amounts of bacteria that live in your digestive tract, and can limit the amount of fermented. Some changes you can make to your diet to help alleviate symptoms include,
- Reduce your alcohol intake
- Eating smaller meals throughout the day
- Limit your caffeine intake
- Reduce the amount of high-fat foods in your diet
- Include more soluble fibre in your diet
- Avoid spicy foods
Although these changes may help to reduce the severity of your IBS symptoms, they do not guarantee they will eliminate them. On the other hand, the low-FODMAP diet can help you identify which foods trigger your symptoms.
Find more tips for eating with IBS from my articles, Building an IBS-Friendly Breakfast and IBS-Friendly Snacks.
The Low-FODMAP Diet
FODMAP stands for:
- Monosaccharides and
These are all different forms of carbohydrates that are, normally, easily digested. However, in IBS, these carbohydrates are not digested as normal and instead are fermented by bacteria found in your gut.
How the Low-FODMAP Diet Works
The low-FODMAP diet is not a long-term diet. In fact, it is a temporary, multi-stage diet which includes eliminating all high-FODMAP foods for 4 to 8 weeks to stop symptoms, before slowly re-introducing high-FODMAPs.
This process should be done under the supervision and guidance of a healthcare procession such as a Registered Dietitian (RD) to ensure you continue to meet your nutritional needs while on the low FODMAP diet.
Check out my article for everything you need to know about the low-FODMAP diet, including when to use it!
Identify Your Personal IBS Triggers
Struggling to identify your personal triggers? Book a FREE discovery call and learn how a registered dietitian can help you beat the bloat!
Carabotti, M., Scirocco, A., Maselli, M. A., & Severi, C. (2015). The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Annals of Gastroenterology : Quarterly Publication of the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology, 28(2), 203. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/
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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (2021, February 24). NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Statistics. (n.d.). Canadian Digestive Health Foundation. Retrieved May 5, 2022, from https://cdhf.ca/digestive-disorders/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/statistics/
Symptoms & Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (2017, November). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Issues. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes