First of all – What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition. It has shown to affect more women than men, and involves either or both recurring abdominal pain, and discomfort linked with a change in the form or frequency of your stool.
Interestingly, IBS has not been found to be due to any structural flaws, but it’s exact cause is still unknown. However we do know that it doesn’t cause changes to the bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
The signs and symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea or constipation — sometimes alternating cycles of diarrhea and constipation
- Mucus in the stool
IBS needs to be managed long-term. Some people can control their symptoms by managing their diet, lifestyle, and stress levels. Severe cramps, constipation or diarrhoea may need to be treated by medication, and some people have found the stress-reduction technique of Mindfulness has helped with IBS.
Gut microbiota are the good bacterias and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. An important part of this complex community is the colonic flora.
There is a possibility that changes to colonic flora could play a role in the development of IBS. Various studies have identified that there are changes in the quality of colonic flora in IBS patients, with a decrease in good bacterias – especially bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
More recent studies have confirmed the presence of a change in colonic flora in IBS, although why these changes have happened is still not known. Nevertheless, changes like this could lead to a rapid growth of bacteria that produce more gas causing pain and discomfort.
FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates that we can’t properly digest in our small intestine. Poorly absorbed FODMAPs, which include sugars such as fructans and galactans, have the potential to boost the likelihood of IBS symptoms like bloating and diarrhea.
Galactans are in foods such as artichokes, beans, onions, cabbage and sprouts. Fructans are in wheat, onions, spring onions, shallots, leeks, artichokes and chicory.
Studies show that a FODMAP‐free diet may help some patients with IBS.
Maybe it’s a food allergy?
The term food allergy should be reserved for those instances where a clear allergic response to a food has been identified.
Many IBS patients report problems with specific foods. Most commonly involved are products containing milk, wheat, caffeine, fructose, and certain meats.
When some people first eat foods containing lactose, fructose, or sorbitol, those who are intolerant will develop symptoms almost immediately, such as abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. These symptoms are similar to those of IBS and for this reason it’s important to seek a medical diagnosis. The benefits of excluding these foods for IBS patients is still uncertain.
Investigate your diet
The best way to identify if a particular food is contributing to your digestive symptoms may be through the use of a medically supervised elimination diet.
This involves tracking what you eat and how you feel in a food diary to see if a potential trigger can be found. You would then remove that food from your diet for a period of time and see what effect that has on your symptoms. If you see an improvement in your symptoms, you may have identified a sensitivity.
However, it is essential to reintroduce the food at some point to ensure that it was the elimination of that particular food that improved your symptoms, and not some other factor. It may be that you can eat a small amount of the food as you have some tolerance level.
Finally, make sure that when eliminating foods you still get the right nutrients from other foods for a balanced and healthy diet.
Always seek advice from a dietitian before carrying out any food elimination.
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