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Navigating IBS

April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month. IBS is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder that affects the small and large intestine. It is characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and changes in bowel habits. IBS affects each person differently, so recommendations can vary. However, there are a few things we can focus on to help manage symptoms as well as promote gut health. Let’s cover the in’s and out’s of IBS, as well as some potential dietary recommendations.

Symptoms

As stated above, IBS affects each person differently. Some of the most common symptoms are abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, and changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or alternating between the two). Some people may also experience excessive gas, abdominal cramping, nausea or queasiness, or changes to appetite.

Causes and Incidence

While there is no one cause of IBS, it is believed to be related to a combination of factors, including stress, hormonal changes, food intolerances, and gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria). It is incredibly common, affecting nearly 15% of the global population. It is more common in women than in men, and typically develops in people under the age of 50.

Dietary Recommendations

Since there is so much discrepancy in symptoms and causation, treatment options also vary greatly. There are certain dietary modifications that can help manage symptoms. These include:

  • Eating a diet high in fiber to help regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation
  • Avoiding trigger foods that can worsen IBS symptoms, such as dairy, gluten, fatty foods, or fatty foods
    • Trigger foods can be different per person, but these tend to be the most common
    • It is usually very helpful to keep a log or dairy of food and symptoms to help you identify what is triggering and what isn’t
  • Incorporating probiotics into the diet to improve gut health and balance gut bacteria
  • Drinking plenty of water to prevent constipation and dehydration, as well as promote overall gut health
    • The recommendation for water intake is half of your body weight in fluid ounces! Slowly increase your daily intake to reach this threshold
  • Aiming for several small meals throughout the day as opposed to a few large ones
    • It is also helpful to have a regular schedule for your meals and snacks
  • Limiting dietary fat (but not excluding it!!) to better tolerate meals
  • A Low-FODMAP diet may also be helpful for some individuals

Supplement Recommendations

In addition to dietary modifications, certain supplements can also help you manage IBS symptoms. These include:

  • Probiotics to improve gut health and balance gut bacteria
  • Magnesium to help regulate bowel movements and reduce abdominal cramping
  • Ginger to reduce nausea and improve digestion
  • A digestive enzyme to enhance digestion and improve nutrient absorption
  • A fiber supplement to help reach your fiber goal each day
  • Natural antibacterials for dysbiosis

Lifestyle Recommendations

Lastly, a few lifestyle changes may also help you better manage your IBS symptoms. These include:

  • Reducing stress through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation
  • Getting the recommended amount of activity/exercise to promote gut motility as well as reduce stress
  • Limiting things like alcohol, caffeine, or stimulant drugs

While there is still much to be learned about IBS, we know that the symptoms are unsavory and frustrating. Identify your triggers, adjust your diet accordingly, and practice healthy habits. If you are experiencing symptoms of IBS, speak with your healthcare provider and consider seeing a registered dietitian. They can help assess your dietary needs and develop a personalized treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms and improve your overall health and wellness. Click here to request an appointment today!

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