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IBS – what can you do?

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is something that often comes up during a consultation. These range from abnormal bowel habits, abdominal pain, cramping, or flatulence. When its bad, it can stop you going to work, seeing friends and eating what you want to eat. It can be a sensitive subject to discuss – but up to 8% of people have it and that means its a conversation worth having to help you!

IBS is complicated and as such there isn’t one cause or “cure” identified, but there have been some factors that appear to come up a lot. These include stress, diet, altered intestinal microbiota, and a genetic predisposition (Lee and Park, 2014). It’s unlikely to just be one of these, but a whole cocktail of different things that are giving you symtpoms.

So here are some actions you can take to improve – or maybe get rid of your symptoms.

Simplify your diet –  try an exclusion diet.

What foods do you find affect you the most? I often hear that spicy foods, tomatoes, wheat, and dairy are main foods that irritate people. Interestingly when people cut out all gluten food, their symptoms of IBS improve (even in those who tested negative for Coeliac disease). But this doesn’t work for everybody unfortunately.

The FODMAP diet is purported to help with IBS symptoms by reducing the consumption of certain types of carbohyrdates that are resistant to digestion. If unable digest or break down the food, this can cause a reaction, causing problems.

Peppermint oil or tea

Peppermint oil has been shown to improve abdominal pain and overall symptoms of IBS. This is usually in a capsule form but you can also try peppermint tea and see if that helps.

Probiotics

As there appears to change in the microbiota, improving the quality and increasing the number of “good” bacteria in the gut should be helpful. Research done by Ortiz-Lucas (2013) found a positive effect of probiotics in treating IBS pain, abdominal distension (bloating) and flatulence. However, they did mention that further research is needed to find the ideal dose, species, and duration. For now, I’d recommend getting a high quality supplement and following the recommended dose.

You can also get good bacteria from kombucha, kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut and any foods that are fermented.

Keep hydrated!

Dehydration is a cause of constipation. Aim for 6-8 glasses of water throughout the day. Small sips often is great. It can even improve your mood.

Eat smaller meals

This reduces the load on your digestive system allowing it to digest and absorb the nutrients without being overloaded.

Reduce stress levels

Easier said than done. Ensuring you take time for yourself, communicating your problems with others, mindfulness exercises, and changing your perceptions about events (finding the positive in every situation) can go a long way to reducing your stress.

General activity

When one study asked people with IBS to increase their general physical activity, some noticed a reduction in their IBS symptoms, as well as improved mood and quality of life. Most peoiple chose walking, cycling, and aerobics but any sort that gets you moving and breathing more will be helpful!

This works as movement mechanically pushes the food in your bowels, helping the process along.

I do understand that when symptoms are bad, all you can do it sit curled over and the last thing you want is to go for a walk. In this case, I recommend focussing on self-massage and belly breathing (see below).

Osteopathy

I first learnt the benefits of osteopathy for IBS whilst at university. We were taught a variety of different abdominal massage techniques and we practiced on each other. Every lesson ended with everyone rushing for the toilet … (TMI?) . It seemed to stimulate movement and hurry things along. There is increasing evidence of the benefits of osteopathic treatment on the symptoms of IBS. This, on top of the advice above can really get a foothold on improviing symptoms.

But for now, I’ll show you a little technique you can do yourself.

Self tummy massage

As you can see on the picture on the right, the colon (where you stools move through) runs in a clockwise direction. Or, from the bottom right, up, across, and down towards your left hip bone.

What we’re going to try and do it help things move along by very gently pressing into the tummy along the direction of the colon. Start at the bottom right of your abdomen and press once before moving along.

30 seconds worth should be more than enough.

If very sore, then either reduce the pressure or stop and try the next exercise.

Belly Breathing

The main breathing muscle, the diaphragm, sits on top of all the abdominal organs. With each breath, it pushes and squeezes these organs and helps push your stools along the colon.

If the self-massage technique is too sore, often taking 10-15 deep slow belly breathes is enough to help with the pain and help things get moving.

Place one hand on the belly and the other on the chest. With each inhalation the belly should rise before the chest.

IMPORTANT TO NOTE

Occasionally the symptoms of IBS are also present in conditions that aare more serious. So if you have a few of the following symptoms, I definitely recommend going to see your doctor. As always these blogs are for educational purpose and not here for diagnosis.

The World Gastroenterology Organisation based symptoms for Irritable Bowel Disease (NOT syndrome):

  • Diarrhoea with blood or mucus diarrhoea may occur at night
  • Occasional constipation too
  • Tenesmus – a sensation of incomplete evacuation
  • Incontinence – lack of control of bowel movement
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe urgency (when you gotta go, you gotta go)
  • Nausea and vomiting

IBS is never fun so if some of these tips have helped you – let me know! I’m also interested in what foods tend to make you feel worse?

Harry

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