Living With IBS: Dietary Tips and Treatment
It's an embarrassing topic; one that's not easy to talk about. And yet, if you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you're not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, some 60 to 70 million Americans suffer from digestive disorders. And one of the most common of these disorders is IBS.
Irritable bowel Syndrome is not a disease; it is a group of symptoms that occur together to affect the functioning of the large intestine (aka, the colon). It is cited as a leading cause of absenteeism in the American workplace. For the estimated one in five Americans suffering from this condition, everyday life involves frequent bouts of painful spasms, gas and bloating, and diarrhea sometimes alternating with constipation. Living with IBS poses many frustrating challenges including the need to always be near a bathroom, as well as confusion about what to eat.
To help understand the symptoms of IBS, let's take a quick tour of the functioning of a healthy digestive tract. Digestion begins in the mouth where enzymes are secreted as you take your first bite of food. Your teeth break up the food and mix it with saliva so it can pass through the esophagus into the stomach. Muscular contractions called peristalsis propel food from the esophagus to the stomach. Like a giant food processor, the stomach churns the food into a mushy consistency preparing it to travel on to the small intestines where it's nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream.
By the time food passes through all twenty-one feet of small intestine only water and waste products remain, and it moves on to the colon which is responsible for absorbing the excess water and removing waste from the body. Under normal conditions, this happens efficiently with ease. However, when a person suffers from IBS, it can be a painful, frustrating, and embarrassing process.
IBS is a mysterious condition that researchers don't fully understand; it doesn't present as a neat set of consistent symptoms; and diagnosis usually consists of ruling out other possibilities. Though there is no single known cause, there are potential dietary triggers.
These are two potential dietary triggers of IBS.
• FODMAPS. Some people with IBS find that symptoms worsen after eating certain carbohydrate foods called FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, and Monosaccharides and Polyols). These carbohydrates including lactose, fructose, sugar alcohols, fructans, and galactans are often poorly digested resulting in a buildup of gas and water in the colon causing it to swell up like a water balloon. For many of my clients with IBS, a low FODMAPs diet has proven to be a very effective treatment. I work closely with them to monitor changes in their symptoms while they eliminate all FODMAP foods and then gradually re-introduce them back into their diet to determine tolerance.
• Food Sensitivities. Consumption of certain foods (even seemingly healthy foods) and food-chemicals (such as caffeine for example) can trigger the immune system to react causing inflammation in the gut along with painful IBS symptoms. Food sensitivity testing can be used to identify an individual's food sensitivities. The test results can then be used to create a personalized anti-inflammatory diet plan. In my practice, I've had excellent success with the LEAP-MRT Food Sensitivity Program.
Meanwhile, for overall digestive wellness, check out these healthy lifestyle tips.
• Establish Regular Eating Habits. Eating at regular times helps regulate your bowels.
• Eat Small, Frequent Meals Instead of Large Ones. This will ease the amount of food moving through your intestinal tract.
• Eat Fiber-Rich Foods. Try whole fruits, vegetables (including beans) and whole grains like rolled oats and brown rice. Take it slow. Adding too much too quickly can result in excess gas and bloating.
• Drink Enough Fluids. Fiber draws water from your body to move foods through your intestine. Without enough water and fluids you can become constipated.
• Watch What You Drink. Alcohol and caf