Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Solving the Riddle of IBS
IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects around one third of the population at some point in their lives, with one in ten seeking help from their GP. IBS is more common amongst women and young people, and can be triggered by stress or emotional upset. Although experts are still not sure exactly why, it seems that IBS sufferers have a more sensitive digestive system.
While it has been suggested that IBS can be triggered by infections like gastroenteritis, or overuse of antibiotics and anti inflammatory drugs, scientific research into gut bacteria has found that people with IBS tend to suffer from depression and anxiety. They have also discovered that people with depression or anxiety-related mood disorders go on to develop IBS. So which comes first?
The root cause of IBS is an imbalance of serotonin, the happy hormone, which is produced in the gut.
Symptoms and causes of IBS
IBS is a sporadic and unpredictable disruption of the digestive system that causes stomach and bowel cramps. If you suffer from one or more of the following symptoms on a regular basis you may be suffering from IBS
- painful abdominal cramps
- bowel cramps
- a combination of both
- a strong and sudden urge to empty your bowels
The exact cause of IBS remains unknown, and while the following are not considered to be the real cause, they can often be a significant trigger.
- prolonged periods of emotional stress can affect your natural digestive rhythm
- previous gastrointestinal illness or a severe bout of food poisoning can make you more susceptible
- hormonal changes
- food intolerances
- imbalance of gut bacteria
The pace and pressure of modern life can be overwhelming at times. Long-term stress or emotional upset can have a detrimental effect on our health. Stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol. One of the effects of cortisol is to shut down non-essential systems in the body; digestion is one system that is compromised.
Managing stress is essential to reducing the symptoms of IBS.
Imbalance of gut bacteria
Our gut contains billions of beneficial bacteria that help us digest our food, support our immune systems and manufacture and absorb nutrients. Unfortunately, today’s diets of refined and processed foods, which are high in sugar and low in fibre, feed the ‘bad’ bacteria in our guts, causing them to grow in number, leading to digestive problems like IBS and food intolerances.
IBS is an over-sensitive gut. Foods that may have been tolerated in the past can become a major trigger. The worst culprits tend to be foods that are difficult to digest.
- gluten (all foods containing wheat, rye and spelt)
- fizzy drinks
For anyone that has taken a course of antibiotics or experienced digestive issues due to a poor diet, the addition of beneficial bacteria in the form of a supplement is an excellent way to boost the gut’s population of different types of bacteria.
They may be taken in capsules or by eating certain types of fermented foods which naturally contain probiotics. These would include live yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir. Kefir is a type of fermented milk and is by far the most powerful probiotic. I recommend kefir made from goats’ milk, since it has enormous health benefits and unlike cows’ milk is not inflammatory.
How to manage IBS
It’s important to get a diagnosis from a GP to rule out anything more serious. Symptoms such as blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and generally feeling unwell are not associated with IBS.
The first important step in managing and hopefully resolving IBS is to take a look at your diet. Not just for foods that are triggers, but also aspects of the diet that are feeding bad bacteria in the gut and creating an imbalance. The idea is to feed the good bugs and starve the bad ones.
Foods to avoid with IBS
- gluten (found in wheat, spelt and rye. This would include almost all breads and pasta)
- high GI (glycaemic index) foods, such as carbohydrates which release sugar into the blood quickly
- dairy, particularly those products found in supermarkets
- beans – can be an irritant while suffering from IBS, once healed, they are a great source of fibre
Foods to eat for IBS
- fibre – an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit. Fibre acts as a prebiotic, providing food and variety for the beneficial gut bacteria
- good fats – oily fish, coconut oil, nuts and seeds all help keep the gut lining healthy and intact
- protein – poultry and fish are digested more slowly help to keep blood sugar stable
- goats’ milk and kefir, both powerful probiotics
Stress causes IBS
- relaxation, hypnotherapy and meditation can relieve stress, helping to decrease painful spasm in the bowel
- it’s important to address any unhappy or difficult lifestyle situations to resolve the problem long term
- avoiding eating when emotional or stressed also helps
How can colonic hydrotherapy help IBS?
- colonic hydrotherapy can be a great treatment to manage the symptoms of IBS. By removing painful trapped gasses, compacted waste and helping to stimulate the natural contraction of the colon. Flushing the bowels with warm water can remove irritants, residues from inflammatory foods and pharmaceutical drugs along with harmful bacteria and yeasts.
- probiotics are recommended after treatment to help repopulate and replenish the microflora.
- colon hydrotherapy stimulates the vagus nerve, switching on the gut brain connection. This can have amazing benefits for those who have become ‘disconnected’ from their own bodies; possibly the ultimate factor behind all digestive dysfunction.