What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome does not cause permanent damage to the colon. It appears as cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas and alternating bouts of diarrhoea and constipation. It is uncomfortable and can seriously affect a person's quality of life. Around one in five Australians experiences the unpleasant symptoms of IBS at some time (Source: Better Health Victoria).
Normally when you eat food the muscles of your gastrointestinal tract contract and relax rhythmically, moving food through your digestive system until it exits your body. It's thought that in IBS the contractions are sometimes stronger and longer lasting than normal. As a result food is hurried along the GI tract without being properly digested - causing gas, bloating and diarrhoea. But sometimes the contractions may be weak and short lived, causing constipation. IBS is estimated to affect 11% of the global population, but since there are no biological markers to test for it clinically, it's thought to be largely undiagnosed.
What causes IBS?
The cause of IBS isn't clear, but stress, altered gut bacteria, genetics and food sensitivities may all be involved. Whatever the cause, multiple factors can exacerbate IBS symptoms. These include certain foods, stress, hormonal changes and mood issues such as anxiety and depression. Research has shown that the neurotransmitter serotonin may be important in the symptoms of IBS, by altering the function of nerve cells in the bowel and causing changes in pain sensation and bowel function (Source: Better Health Victoria).
Other bowel complications
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is becoming increasingly common among the population and include:
- Ulcerative Colitis - usually limited to inflammation of the innermost lining of the large intestine and colon
- Crohn's Disease - causes inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract and can penetrate into the deep layers of the intestinal wall.
Because these are diseases of ongoing inflammation, infection is a prime culprit for the cause. Research also shows they may also be autoimmune disorders meaning that your body reacts as if it is fighting a pathogen when in fact no threat is present.
Intestinal Obstruction occurs when the intestines become blocked. As a result, the intestines are unable to complete processing food or pass stool (Source: Health Line).
What can I do?
- see your Doctor for advice - they may suggest certain medications for controlling diarrhoea or constipation
- increase fibre and water intake
- alcohol, nicotine and caffeine can be triggers for some people, cut down or stop completely and see if things improve
- keep a food diary and eliminate foods which cause uncomfortable symptoms
- graze during the day instead of having 3 large meals
- add yoghurt to your diet - a quality yoghurt with the good bacteria, acidophilus or take acidophilus supplements
- do other elimination tests like removing lactose and gluten from your diet - do things improve?
- try supplements like Effervescent Magnesium Ascorbate Crystals, Peppermint Oil or Artichoke Leaf Extract
- Peppermint tea and Ginger tea are known for relaxing stomach muscles
- remember to exercise (Source: Health Arizona and Best Health Magazine).
A personal perspective
I have suffered from IBS for most of my adult life. To make matters worse, when I had a colonoscopy, the surgeon discovered I also have a twisted bowel. I needed to eliminate or drastically reduce the following from my diet:
- full fat products
- highly processed foods
- full cream milk, cheese and dairy- I switched to lactose free and skim
- gluten and/or wheat
- excessive amounts of pasta
- deep fried food
If I keep these foods to a minimum (only splurge once in a while) then I'm OK. After years of suffering excruciating abdominal pain, I now know what the triggers are and avoid them as much as possible. However it isn't always possible to avoid them, i.e. eating birthday cake at your friend's birthday, so I simply have a very small piece and flush it out with lots of water. My general rule of thumb is be good to your gut 80% of the time and allow yourself to be naughty 20% of the time...it's called living!
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