There are times when we can experience stomach pain and discomfort from certain foods that we eat, or gut bugs we may come into contact with. However, when symptoms such as stomach pain and changes in bowel habits last for a long time, it can be quite frustrating and worrisome. This could indicate signs of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
IBS is a common condition which affects the gastrointestinal tract, and can cause abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements. IBS is typically a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that other diseases must be ruled out before we can say that it is truly IBS. Additionally, these symptoms must occur over a period of three months, according to the ROME IV Criteria. IBS typically occurs in women more than men, and has a wide variety of symptoms which can be broken down into different categories . Every person’s bowel habits are specific to them, and what we experience may not be the same as what someone else may experience.
The causes of IBS are not quite known and it could be related to genetics, immune function, hormonal dysregulation and the gut microbiome. However, we do know that it can be associated with depression and anxiety (the gut-brain axis).
“IBS-C” is IBS with primarily constipation, the feeling of incomplete bowel movements, stomach pain or discomfort and bloating. Again, constipation can look different for everyone, but on average, people have bowel movements between one to three times per day.
“IBS-D” is IBS with primarily diarrhea and can often have some urgency with bowel movements. There is again stomach pain and/or discomfort. Lastly and most common, IBS can be mixed-type in which is a combination of constipation and diarrhea.
This refers to a style of eating which has low potential to cause bloating and fermentation in the gut. FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates (ologi-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols). Foods that are high in FODMAPs are not absorbed well and go through the body quickly . Research has shown that following a low FODMAP diet can help with symptoms of abdominal pain and bloating. Following a removal of the foods which are high in FODMAPs, you may start to introduce the foods one by one to determine which foods you may be more sensitive to. The low-FODMAPs diet also makes a recommendation to avoid processed and fast foods which can be high in saturated and trans-fat.
Aside from this, consuming sources of soluble fiber, such as oats and ground flaxseeds could be beneficial to help bulk up stool and stimulate regular bowel movements. When consuming more fiber it is also important to include adequate amounts of water! Fiber without water can be a recipe for further constipation!
In general for health, having some sort of daily movement is important, whether it be walking, dancing, strength-training or yoga. Movement is essentially anything that you enjoy doing and that improves your stress levels and quality of life. In terms of IBS, any sort of movement can be helpful. Yoga has been thoroughly studied for IBS-support and seems to improve pain, mood, stress and overall quality of life in people with IBS . In traditional Chinese medicine, incorporating daily movement is important for smooth flow of “qi” or our life energy which guides functions such as digestion in order to properly absorb nutrients.
Abdominal pain with IBS can be caused from excessive gas, bloating and inflammation from improperly digested foods. Probiotics such as Saccharomyces boulardii, psyllium fiber and omega-3 fish oils are helpful at decreasing inflammation and promoting a balanced microbiome in individuals with IBS . We know that one of the causes of IBS could be related to dysbiosis, and sometimes we may require probiotics and prebiotics to help restore normal gut flora. Probiotics are types of foods which contain bacterial cultures in them (ie. Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium). Saccharomyces is a yeast which promotes repopulation by these normal gut bacteria. Prebiotics are types of food which essentially “fertilize” these gut bacteria and allow them to thrive and proliferate. They can be thought of as foods for the gut microbiome. This includes fibrous foods such as leafy green vegetables, dandelion and chicory root.
There are a wide variety of herbs which can be used to optimize digestive function, including peppermint, chamomile, and fennel. Please speak with your healthcare practitioner to decide which ones are right for you and how much you should take.
IBS is a condition which can vary for everyone as it contains a wide variety of symptoms. Please speak with your healthcare practitioner so a thorough investigation can be done in order to decide what is best for your particular health needs.