How to Manage Your IBS & Improve Gut Health
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gut disorder that affects between 25 and 45 million people in the U.S. (Source: IFFGD). While the exact cause is unknown, health experts believe that IBS is a result of poor communication between the brain, nervous system and gut, causing abdominal muscle spasms that may slow down or speed up the passage of stool (Source: Mayo Clinic). The symptoms of IBS differ from person to person but most commonly include diarrhea, constipation, cramping, gas and bloating. For some IBS is merely a mild inconvenience, but for others, it impacts all facets of their lives.
People with IBS generally have sensitive intestines and may need to take specific precautions to minimize their symptoms (Source: WebMD). Unfortunately, a little detective work may be required to determine what your own unique trigger or triggers are. Some triggers of IBS include the following:
- Stress doesn’t cause IBS but may exacerbate symptoms. Whether you’re starting a new job, facing other work-related stress, or are dealing with it at home, stress seems to set off IBS and worsen symptoms.
- Certain foods have been known to trigger IBS, namely chocolate, carbonated drinks, caffeine, alcohol, beans, cabbage, broccoli, fried and fatty foods and some fruits.
- Since women are twice as likely to have IBS as men, hormonal changes may play a role. Some women have noticed their symptoms worsen around the time of their menstrual cycle.
- Other health conditions like gastroenteritis and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) have been known to set off IBS.
If you or someone you love experience IBS, here are some tips to help minimize triggers and manage symptoms:
- Keep a food diary. Because certain foods may trigger IBS symptoms, it’s a good idea to track what you eat. This process can help pinpoint trouble foods that irritate the digestive tract. Especially pay attention to how your body reacts to certain potential trigger foods (listed above).
- Monitor fiber intake. Gradually add more fiber to your diet if you experience constipation. As you do, be sure to drink more water to keep your intestines working. High-fiber foods include apples, pears, carrots, leafy greens, whole grain breads and cereals and beans. If gas is an IBS symptom, avoid peas, cabbage and broccoli (Source: WebMD).
- Manage stress effectively. Take up exercise, yoga, meditation, a hobby and/or plan regular down time for yourself. Exercising for 20-60 minutes, 3-5 days a week may diminish IBS symptoms. Vigorous exercise in the form of running, swimming, or HIIT (high intensity interval training) can help reduce stress.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco, whether chewed or smoked, irritates and stimulates the intestinal lining. Smoking triggers every IBS symptom, plus it increases the risk of all cancers of the digestive tract (Source: Help for IBS).
- Limit antibiotic use. Research has shown that antibiotics disrupt gut flora and may dispose people to IBS. Follow up an antibiotic regimen with probiotics to restore beneficial gut bacteria and improve IBS symptoms (Source: IFFGD).
While IBS affects roughly 10 to 15 percent of the world’s population, each person has his or her own unique triggers. Do a little personal investigating and consider these tips to minimize your own IBS symptoms.