April is IBS awareness month, the time to talk about this condition that is thought to affect 2 out of 10 people in the UK. It often leaves sufferers questioning everything they eat, without support or advice on how to deal with their symptoms.
What is IBS?
It is an umbrella term – irritable bowel syndrome – that encompasses many symptoms. These vary but can include chronic constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and belching. It is often the label given when GP and hospital tests have ruled out other conditions. The problem is that very often patients are given the label but without accompanying advice. This leaves them to try and understand what might be triggering their symptoms. As well as being confusing, this can often lead to a long-term restricted diet that brings its own problems and may even exacerbate symptoms.
How can you identify what is causing symptoms?
One of the first things that is worth doing if you feel you have IBS is to keep a detailed food and symptom diary. This means noting down everything you eat, and the time, while also keeping a list of symptoms as they appear. It will help you, or the nutritionist you are working with, identify possible food triggers. A guided elimination diet then helps to explore triggers in more detail.
However, very often IBS sufferers will find that a certain food triggers symptoms one day, but not the next. This can lead to confusion and a feeling of helplessness. In these cases it may mean that the digestive tract itself needs nurture and support – through the addition of certain nutrients, bone broths, collagen etc. – and often by focusing on improving overall gut health, IBS symptoms can subside.
What else might be triggering IBS?
Stress can also be a key factor. Ongoing stress (aka a year of lockdowns) can very often trigger IBS symptoms by altering the transit time of food through the gut. It can both speed it up and lead to diarrhoea, or slow it down, which results in constipation. Recognising and taking steps to reduce stress on a daily basis is an important step in any programme to address IBS symptoms.
How would working with a nutritionist help?
As well as exploring possible food triggers and sensitivities through an elimination diet, there are tests available that can give a comprehensive picture of the health of your digestive tract. A stool test would look at the overall health. It identifies signs of inflammation, maldigestion and possible malabsorption, as well as giving an overview of the balance of bacteria – both beneficial and pathogenic – any yeast overgrowth and possible parasites. This snapshot of your gut then guides your nutritionist in putting together a personalised programme for you. By addressing the elements that have been shown to need extra support, more impactful changes may be made.
Do you suspect you have IBS? If you have been diagnosed with IBS, or feel that these symptoms describe the issues you are suffering with at the moment, then please get in touch or book a free call and let’s talk.