Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common condition that will affect up to 1 in 5 Australians during their life. IBS affects every person differently, with some people able to easily identify their triggers, while others may search for many years to find an answer to their problems. There are three main subtypes of IBS – constipation dominant (IBS-C), diarrhoea dominant (IBS-D) and mixed or alternating (IBS-M). The different subtypes require a very different approach to dietary modification and supplement choice and this is where seeking the advice of a professional can be helpful.
IBS symptoms are also often worse in times of stress and when we are not getting the rest that we need. The gut really likes routine, so changing our routines a lot can cause issues, especially if we have sensitive tummies, as is often the case in IBS. It is important to see your doctor for a diagnosis of IBS – where they may do additional investigations to rule out other more serious conditions that can present in a similar way to IBS. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning there is no test that will be able to tell you that you have IBS, but by ruling out other diseases, IBS is the only possibility that remains.
For those that have constipation dominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-C), going to the toilet to open the bowels can become a stressful event in itself. Constipation as a definition varies, but is characterized by infrequent bowel motions, with a high percentage of stools being hard and only able to be passed with straining. There is often pain or spasm which improves with passing of the stool.
Some simple changes can help improve IBS-C:
- Drink plenty of water – our digestive tract is highly permeable, especially to water and the longer our waste products sit in the bowel, the more opportunity there is for water to be absorbed into the body, leaving the stool hard and difficult to pass, particularly if we are not drinking enough to keep the body hydrated.
- Eat a wide variety of high-fibre foods – fibre comes in many different forms and is basically carbohydrates that our bodies can’t use, so it adds to bulk and can soften the stool. It is also food for our gut bacteria, so it plays a big role in our overall health! Fibre is found in all fruits and vegetables and wholegrains.
- Get out and move! – Exercise and movement helps to move waste through the digestive tract, so lack of movement worsens constipation. Exercise is also great to help improve mood, which can impact on IBS symptoms.
- Protect your toilet routine – Our bodies have many body clocks; we most often think of this in relation to our sleep/wake cycle, but our body also has a pooping routine. Eating your meals in a non-hurried, relaxed space can improve gut motility. Sitting on the toilet after meals can retrain the body that this is a good time to evacuate the bowels.
Living with frequent diarrhoea is very distressing and is a difficult condition to manage. The cause of the diarrrhoea is important to determine, therefore seeing a doctor and not diagnosing yourself with IBS is essential. Diarrhoea is often caused by secretory issues or faster movement of the gut. A very common trigger for people with diarrhoea dominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D) is certain foods and sugars, particularly lactose. If our intestines don’t produce enough of the enzymes used to break down our food properly, diarrhoea may be the result as the body tries to eliminate the food that has not been absorbed properly.
There are things you can do to help with IBS-D:
- Avoid dietary triggers – It sounds simple but this can be complicated if you don’t know what is causing your diarrhoea. Talking to a nutritionist or dietitian can help you identify which foods are more likely to be causing your troubles.
- Increase high fibre foods slowly – Fibre is often though of in treating constipation, but it also plays a big role in improving diarrhoea as well! There are lots of different fibre supplements available, so it’s important to discuss which one may be right for you. Some fibre types can cause bloating but other fibres work best to improve stool consistency, which are suitable even for people who are sensitive to standard fibre supplements.
- Take a probiotic – altered bacterial flora in the gut is thought to contribute to symptoms in IBS-D and probiotics can help improve spasm and frequency of bowel motions. If the diarrhoea is due to food intolerances, some probiotics can help improve the production of enzymes by the small intestine.
- Manage your stress – Stress can make IBS-D worse, so it’s important to have a plan for relaxation and stress management. Deep breathing, going for walks and participating in a hobby can all help to improve how you’re feeling and improve digestive function.
Help is at hand!
Danielle is our knowledgeable dietitian and nutritionist and is available at both our Arana Hills and Samford sites. She can help with meal plans and advice to help you improve your day to day living with IBS. To book, call Danielle on 0451 618 537