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Did you know that irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder worldwide? Roughly 9-23% of the world’s population is affected by IBS and it affects roughly 10-15% of the American population.
Many people are unaware that they have IBS until severe symptoms begin to appear. Symptoms of IBS may include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These symptoms can be debilitating and decrease quality of life. While there is no known cure for irritable bowel syndrome, there are ways in which one can improve symptoms.
If you are unsure whether or not you have IBS, speak to your doctor and registered dietitian nutritionist before beginning any “diet” regimen aimed at treating IBS. In the meantime, here are a few tips for getting relief:
Eat Smaller Meals
Consuming large meals can often result in cramping and diarrhea in those with IBS. To avoid this, eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
Keep a Food-Symptom Diary
Tracking dietary intake, symptoms and other factors like stress, medications, daily activities and sleep patterns will help identify what triggers and worsens IBS symptoms.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of irritable symptoms. Although herbal medicine has not been widely researched in America, there are clinical trials that suggest certain herbs can ease frustrating IBS symptoms. Peppermint oil is thought to decrease muscle spasms in the GI tract. Ginger has also been used to treat IBS. Ginger is thought to decrease inflammation and irritation as well as decrease nausea.
Several studies suggest that use of probiotics helps to manage IBS symptoms. Probiotics are live microscopic organisms, known as “friendly bacteria” that keep the digestive tract healthy and functioning properly. Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium are the most common strains of probiotic bacteria which can be found in yogurt and other cultured dairy products. They are also available as dietary supplements.
Stress Relief Techniques
While stress does not cause IBS, people with the disorder often find that their symptoms intensify in stressful situations. Therefore, taking steps to reduce stress levels may help with IBS. Consider activities like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, hypnosis, or counseling. Everyone reacts differently, so it may be necessary to try different stress relief techniques.
Low FODMAP Diet
If you haven’t yet heard of the low FODMAP diet to treat IBS, it’s time to check it out. FODMAP is an acronym for the types of carbohydrates that cause irritating side effects in the gut. The acronym stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These carbohydrates are short-chained and are rapidly fermented by bacteria in the gut. The bacteria that feed on these short-chain carbs produce gas and other unpleasant side effects which are major contributors to your discomfort. Slowly eliminating these foods can help you discover what foods work for you and which don’t.
Do not try to embark on a low FODMAP diet on your own. A low FODMAP diet requires the expert guidance of a registered dietitian nutritionist who is trained in treating IBS using the low FODMAP approach.
Eating smaller meals, keeping a food-symptom diary, using probiotics, reducing stress and following a low FODMAP diet are all great techniques for reducing the occurrence of IBS symptoms. With the help from a registered dietitian nutritionist, you can finally get on the road to relief from IBS by catering dietary changes to your lifestyle.