IBS Symptoms, Treatment, Support

IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, currently affects between 10% and 20% of the population. This is a huge number and it means that IBS support is needed now more than ever.

While IBS is not necessarily life threatening, as most sufferers will know, it has a very powerful impact on those who struggle with it. As with any condition, information is a powerful weapon. So here’s everything you need to know about this common digestive problem.

What is IBS?

IBS can be very discomfortingWhile the underlying cause of IBS is not yet known, the condition causes abnormal movement within the bowel. This can in turn leads to spasms. This is a functional condition, which means that there is no physical difference in the bowel of someone with and without Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The only difference is the manner in which the bowel functions.

This condition causes a range of symptoms, including pain, constipation, bloating and diarrhoea. The triggers for these episodes are not always known and can be sporadic – so you do not always know when it might strike.

Some professionals believe that IBS may be directly related to abnormal contractions in the walls of the intestines. When the contractions are too weak, they could lead to constipation and bloating as the walls struggle to push out the waste.

On the other hand, if the contractions are too strong, they could lead to diarrhoea as the powerful contractions have an impact on the waste.

The symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome differ markedly from one person to another, both in terms of frequency and severity.

While some people might struggle with these symptoms every now and again, others need to make big changes in their daily lives in order to cope with it. This makes IBS a very personalized condition. While you might know a handful of people who suffer from it, it’s rare that two will have the exact same symptoms.

The Mind / Body Connection

Statistically, IBS symptoms are more likely to occur in woman and they can be triggered by anxiety. Unfortunately, this only adds to the mystery of this condition! It has long been known that anxiety can have a direct impact on the bowel and when it comes to IBS. For some, anxiety can trigger episodes of diarrhoea or constipation, while others might experience painful bloating and gas.

Because IBS has such a strong connection to anxiety and stress, many people don’t take it very seriously. Some people might even say “it’s all in your head”, but this is not the case. While the symptoms are exacerbated by stress, they are very real.

Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Treatment & Support

It might surprise most people to learn that when you’re treating IBS, you’re not actually treating the condition.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes IBS, so there’s no way to actually combat the source of the problem. You can however combat the symptoms if you know how.

While there might not be an IBS cure, symptoms can be managed by making some simple changes to diet and lifestyle. These don’t have to be huge changes, but they’ll keep your bowel – and by extension, you – much happier.

When it comes to tackling the symptoms, you’re dealing directly with the constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhoea and resulting pain that IBS causes.

Eat small

Small, regular meals will keep your bowels happier than fewer, larger meals. Meal preparation can go a long way in helping you to prepare for these more frequent meals. This also takes a lot of the anxiety out of meal times. Knowing when to eat, and how much to consume, is just as important as knowing what – and what not – to eat.

Drink more water

Experts recommend at least 8 glasses of water each day. This ensures that you’re giving your bowels lots of lubrication to prevent constipation and even gas build-up. While we’re on the subject of drinking, cutting down on coffee and fizzy drinks can also help. Not only is it better for your bowels, but will also make it easier for you to drink more water.

The question of fibre isn’t a straightforward one when it comes to IBS. While some recommend that an IBS diet be fibre-filled, others recommend exactly the opposite. Why the confusion? Because it all depends on the individual.

If you’re struggling with diarrhoea on a regular basis, you’ll want to make sure that you reduce your fibre intake. If, on the other hand, you’re constipated, you need to increase your fibre intake. Getting the right balance can be tricky, but it’s important to listen to your body and what it needs.

Keep a Food Diary

The easiest way of learning what foods suit you best is to start a food diary. This can also help you remember which ones you need to run a mile from! Keep track of what you eat, when you eat it and how you feel afterwards. You can start to identify patterns when you look at your food consumption this way. It’s also much easier to make the adjustments that will have you feeling better than you have a long time.

The FODMAP Diet

The FODMAP diet has been gaining a lot of ground in recent years because of its impact on IBS symptoms. Foods that are high in FODMAP, or Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, have been known to increase Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.

These are foods such as cherries, apples and peaches. On the other hand, the foods low in FODMAP (such as marrow, carrots and squash) have been known to reduce the symptoms of IBS.

IBS is a common but mysterious condition that affects many people. While the condition is made worse by anxiety, it is most certainly not something that resides solely in the mind.

This condition has the potential to impact every aspect of your wellbeing, from your social interactions to your diet, so it can help for sufferers to take as much control of it as possible. Keeping yourself healthy and happy means getting to know how the condition affects you, and which treatment options work best for you.

Kefir – All about the health benefits, plus a recipe!

kefirThe important role of the bacterial “tenants” that live in our gut is becoming more and more understood – and with it, the reasons why we should remember to feed them when we feed ourselves.

With bacterial cells outnumbering our human cells 10 to 1 (yes, that means our body contains only 10% human!) it is vital that we look after these organisms, even if we haven’t yet fully realised the influence that they have on our immune system, cardiovascular system, weight, mood and digestive system. These friendly creatures and their by-products keep pathogens at bay, guard against infectious illness and aid in the best digestion of the food that we consume.

There are plenty of “probiotics” (a substance which stimulates the growth of microorganisms, especially those with beneficial properties) on the market, but an emerging culture (excuse the pun) amongst foodies is to change the composition of the bacteria in our gut through the foods that we eat. A lot of these foods have been used by traditional cultures as a way of getting the most nutrition from food by releasing nutrients from the food, and also ensuring extended shelf life. These include foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, sourdough, pickled vegetables, pickled herring, butter milk, and yoghurt.

I was recently introduced into the world of water kefir, which uses kefir grains (tibicos), also called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to produce a lightly carbonated, fermented drink. Kefir Grains consist of bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship. They consume the added sugar in the water to produce a variety of beneficial acids, B vitamins, food enzymes and more beneficial bacteria. Kefir grains designed to ferment milk products is also available, and produces something that tastes similar to yoghurt. For those who do not want to consume dairy, water kefir is a great alternative to dairy kefir.

Research is still trying to demonstrate the full effect of fermented foods, and which types and how much we need. Fermented drinks, such as kefir, have long, strong histories of consumption around the world and it appears that there are many health benefits that can come about by consuming fermented products, including:

– Stabilising or balancing the gastrointestinal tract
– Better digestion
– Fighting off harmful bacteria, yeasts and viruses
– Stimulating the immune system
– Less bowel issues
– Decreased bacterial translocation (when bacteria leave the gut and migrate to other parts of your body and cause illness) by strengthening the barrier of the gut
– Anti-inflammatory effects (especially when ginger is added)
– Prevent and treat urinary tract infections
– Treat irritable bowel syndrome

And it is a great alternative to soft drinks, or for when you are having a sugar craving but what something healthy!
So, now that you are all excited about how fermented foods can help you, where do you start? It is best to learn how to make these at home, as some store bought products may not be as healthy as you think (sauerkraut, for example, should only be bought if it is in the fridge – if it is in the main aisle of the supermarket, they usually use vinegar to give it the acidic flavour instead of the naturally produced flavour from the bacteria).

kefir grains

RECIPE FOR WATER KEFIR

There are many variations of how to produce kefir water online, but I have listed a basic recipe below:

For Initial Fermentation

  • 1 large 2.5+L jar
  • Nylon or stainless steel sieve
  • 1 cup kefir grains (buy online, or look on sites such as Gumtree)
  • 1 cup sugar (preferably organic raw/coconut/rapadura/brown sugar as oppose to processed white sugar, or honey which has antibacterial properties and may weaken the kefir)
  • ½ an organic lemon (otherwise remove the rind before adding into the mixture)
  • 2 Litres of water (filtered water (although not one that demineralises the water such as a Brita filter), spring water or boiled water that has been cooled)
  • Extra: one organically grown, dry fig or unsulphured dried fruit.

For Secondary Fermentation

  • 1 cup juice OR 2-4 tb organic cane sugar

How to make the magic happen…

  1. Dissolve sugar in the water, and then add the remaining ingredients including the kefir grains.
  2. Cover the jar and let stand for 1 to 2 days at room temperature.
  3. When the liquid has produced the desired flavour, strain the water kefir by pouring the liquid into a flip top, airtight bottle (if you want to double ferment the drink) or into a pitcher.
  4. Discard the fruit, but keep the kefir grains which can be immediately recultured.
  5. The water kefir can be enjoyed as is, or flavoured. It can also be fermented a second time using a tightly capped bottle.
  6. Pour either the juice or organic sugar into the flip-top, capped bottle and let sit on the countertop for 18-24 hours.
  7. Transfer the bottle for 2-3 days to let the gas settle, and then open carefully over the sink in case the bubbles cause the kefir to fizz and foam!

When planning on adding fermented products like kefir into your diet, bear in mind that you are still adding bacteria to your gut, which may initially cause symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps or diarrhoea as your gut adjusts. These issues should resolve themselves within a few days though. Introduce the foods slowly if you feel that you may react to too many changes at once. If you have issues, start with a couple of tablespoons a day, and then introduce this by one or two tablespoons a day until you can tolerate a cup without any discomfort.

Comment below with any fermentation success (of failure!) stories, or any suggestions of what to flavour the kefir water with!

THANK YOU to our wonderful dietitian Renee for writing this fabulous article about Kefir.  I know everybody is going to get a ‘good gut feeling’ about this one (had to throw a gut joke in there!)

Julie xo