What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS for short) is a chronic intestinal disorder that affects 15 per cent of the population in Australia. Although this disorder isn't related to the development of cancers or other serious diseases, the symptoms caused by IBS can be detrimental to your health, wellbeing and confidence.
Extreme abdominal discomfort and pain, diarrhoea, constipation, and bloating are symptoms related to IBS. These symptoms are inconvenient and distressing, but they can also be quite embarrassing. Although the definite causes of irritable bowel syndrome are unknown, an episode for an IBS sufferer may be triggered by specific foods in your diet and medications or by other conditions such as stress and hormonal changes. For some, an IBS episode may be brought on by multiple triggers.
What Are the Common Triggers of IBS?
Unfortunately, there isn't simply one specific food that can cause an IBS episode. A wide range of foods may negatively affect your bowels, including fibre-rich and gas-producing foods such as beans and wheat, dairy products (especially cheese), certain fruits, and most fatty, oily and fried foods.
You should also be careful with what you drink as carbonated beverages and drinks containing caffeine and alcohol can trigger an unwanted episode. This is because all of these types of foods and drink upset digestion. The adverse effects caused by these foods on your digestion and bowel movement often lead to symptoms of IBS. So although these foods aren't necessarily proven to cause the disorder directly, they may aggravate symptoms in many of us.
Stress and anxiety
Being stressed and feeling anxious is very common, and we know that our mental health and emotional wellbeing play an essential role in maintaining our physical health. Stress is a significant trigger to IBS episodes, and this is because stress and anxiety often cause overactivity of the gut. These issues will exacerbate symptoms related to IBS, such as diarrhoea and stomach-churning.
Mental health may affect your gut health in other ways too. With poor mental health, a person may encounter constipation, and abdominal discomfort as one's brain signals are underactive. The brain often reacts under extreme stress and anxiousness, resulting in decreased bowel movement and increased IBS-related symptoms.
Gastrointestinal infections are viral infections that cause inflammation in the stomach or small intestine, often contracted by contact with someone infected or by consuming contaminated food or water. The symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection are often very reminiscent of the symptoms of IBS, just more extreme. The symptoms usually include vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
The harmful bacterial overgrowth associated with gastrointestinal infections affects the microflora in the gut and creates an imbalance in bacteria. This imbalance is detrimental to gut health and will result in IBS related symptoms.
Looking after your gut doesn't just come down to what you eat, but also how you eat. How we consume food has a significant effect on how our bowel moves. Erroneous eating (overeating or eating too quickly) may help to trigger IBS. Large meals (particularly meals high in fat) and large amounts of cold beverages (especially alcohol) can contribute to the causation of irritable bowel syndrome. This is because consuming large quantities of food or eating too quickly will result in abnormal muscle contractions in the intestine. When the intestinal muscle contractions need to be stronger or go for longer, the result may be a feeling of bloatedness, a buildup of gas or even diarrhoea.
Ultimately this means that through excessive eating, you may start to show IBS related symptoms and may even suffer from IBS attacks. A person will show irritable bowel syndrome-like signs for a short period. Looking after how you eat may improve your quality of life by reducing the risk of IBS symptoms.
Women are more likely to suffer from IBS than men, resulting from extreme hormonal changes during menstrual periods. Research shows that sex hormones like estrogen and progestogen can exacerbate symptoms of IBS but have also been shown to help. Over a menstrual cycle, the risk of suffering from IBS symptoms are high, partly because sex hormones tend to raise levels of inflammation throughout the body. However, elevated hormone levels help improve your pain threshold and even control the smooth muscles in your intestine, meaning high hormones will help you digest food easier.
Unfortunately, as hormone levels fall, the body becomes more susceptible to IBS. Hormones help with pain regulation, and as they drop, stomach pain, discomfort, constipation, and diarrhoea become more apparent. This drop also slows the digestion of food through your stomach, drastically affecting gut health in general, increasing the likeliness of experiencing IBS related symptoms.
How Do You Treat IBS?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS. However, if managed correctly, you can control IBS symptoms and live a relatively normal life.
Treatment of IBS focuses on relieving symptoms by managing stress and changing your diet and lifestyle. It's recommended to:
- Avoid foods and beverages that might trigger your IBS
- Eat foods that are high in fibre
- Drink plenty of water
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine
- Get good quality sleep
- Find a healthy way to manage stress levels
If your symptoms are more severe, your doctor may prescribe you medication to help you. We recommend speaking with a healthcare professional first if you're experiencing signs of IBS.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to provide medical advice. All information, content, and material in this blog post are to inform the reader only. Our content is not intended to serve as a replacement for the consultation, diagnosis, and medical treatment of a qualified doctor or healthcare provider.
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i have ibs i think i have just got over a bad time but looking good at the moment been reading all your stuff for a year now so i am saveing for a fryer now and hope to get some of your books if you delivery to the uk and some of you insulin and syrup thankyou for all the information i have read you are really a lovely lady but i am scared to write on posts i don’t want to look like a idiot and i love cooking