Are you sick of trying to squeeze your bloated tummy into your favourite jeans in between running to the bathroom with diarrhoea (or being stuck in the bathroom with constipation)?
Then perhaps it’s time to identify exactly what’s triggering your irritable bowel symptoms and arming yourself with some good foods and natural supplements to help you fight irritable bowel syndrome.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 10-15% of the population, with 2 out 3 sufferers being women. IBS is a chronic disorder that mainly affects the large intestine with abdominal symptoms of bloating, constipation, cramping, diarrhoea, and gas occurring for at least 3 days per month across a 3-month (or more) period.
Apart from the discomfort that can range from mild to debilitating, the frustrating part about irritable bowel syndrome is that the precise cause is not known.
Causes of irritable bowel syndrome
While the root cause of IBS is not known, it’s common to discover that people with IBS often have other underlying issues with their gut health. These may include gut sensitivity, altered gut motility, L-glutamine deficiency, bacterial infections, Leaky Gut Syndrome, Crohn’s disease and imbalanced microbiome.
The science behind IBS symptoms
The symptoms of IBS are generally related to the gut motility and bowel movements.
Slowed or spastic movements of the colon can cause painful cramping and result in gas and bloating. When the passage of food is slowed, stools can become hard and dry, leading to constipation.
A surplus of bacteria caused by poor diet, infection or medication can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea. Additionally, certain foods ferment in the gut causing gas and bloating.
While IBS may feel out of your control, research says that diet and lifestyle modification can help! Dieticians recommend keeping a food diary paired with the symptoms you feel to begin identifying what triggers your IBS.
What foods trigger your IBS Symptoms?
Just like the symptoms of IBS can vary greatly among individuals, the triggers for your IBS symptoms may also be very different. With up to 60% of IBS patients reporting an onset of symptoms soon after meals, it makes sense that avoiding some common triggers can offer some relief.
Dietary fibre is good for adding bulk to your stools, keeping your gut healthy and giving you that satisfied full feeling. However, there are two types of fibre -soluble and insoluble.
Most plant foods contain both insoluble and soluble fibre, but those high in insoluble fibre – bran, whole grains, nuts, corn, and the skins of fruits and vegetables are often considered triggers for IBS symptoms because of the strain they put on the digestive system.
Apples, pears, watermelon, stone fruits, concentrated fruit, dried fruit, and fruit juice are all high in fructose. As are the vegetables beets, garlic, and onions. The issue with too much fructose is it feeds intestinal bacteria and yeast and can cause an imbalance in the microbiota of the intestine, leading to gas, bloating and diarrhoea.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage contain compounds called oligosaccharides that are resistant to digestive enzymes. This means they end up being fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, resulting in gas and bloating! This is similar for pulses like lentils, beans and chickpeas. Different amounts are tolerable by different people, so it comes down to trialing what works for you.
Eating food that you’re intolerant to will often produce similar symptoms to irritable bowel syndrome. The issue arises when intolerances haven’t been identified! Milk, ice cream, sour cream and cottage cheese are all sources of lactose that may trigger either IBS or intolerance symptoms. The good news is there are now plenty of dairy-free alternatives available.
Gluten, another common trigger for intolerances, is found in wheat products, such as breads, cereals, flour, pasta, beer, sauces, and cakes. The 2021American College of Gastrointestinal clinical guidelines suggest that sensitivity to gluten is one of the most commonly reported reactions to food by patients with IBS. So, it’s unsurprising that research suggests that a gluten-free diet can improve IBS symptoms in approximately 50% of people.
Eating too much processed or fatty foods, such as crisps, processed meats or deep-fried meals is bad for your gut, your heart, and your waistline. A recent review has linked eating 4 serves of ultra-processed foods per day with a higher risk of developing IBS, along with obesity and high blood pressure.
For some, the thought of giving up coffee is almost blasphemous! Coffee, energy drinks and sodas contain caffeine, a stimulant for your intestines that can cause pain and diarrhoea. If caffeine is a trigger for you, be careful to wean yourself and expect to have headaches, irritability, and abdominal pain. BUT you can also expect an improvement in your IBS symptoms.
Honey, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners like maltitol, sorbitol or xylitol (like found in ‘zero sugar’ drinks and chewing gum) can cause an imbalance in gut bacteria, leading to gas and diarrhoea.
Alcohol, chocolate, and carbonated drinks are also considered common triggers for IBS. Try to stay hydrated and eat smaller meals to aid in digestion. And don’t underestimate the impact stress and anxiety can have on IBS symptoms!
6 Food types to help IBS
FODMAP foods, short for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, and Monosaccharides and Polyols, are carbohydrates that are not digested or absorbed well. These carbohydrates are fermented by intestinal bacteria, producing short-chain fatty acids that result in gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and/ or constipation. Hence, dieticians often recommend the low-FODMAP diet for those with IBS.
An apple a day may not keep the IBS away, but low FODMAP fruits have lower amounts of fructose, meaning they are easier to digest. Blueberries, bananas, cantaloupe, cranberries, grapes, strawberries, and kiwi are all examples of low FODMAP fruits.
Blueberries have a number of properties that are beneficial to gut health. They are high in soluble fibre, meaning they can prevent constipation while adding bulk to stools. Blueberries are also rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant linked to improving inflammation.
In a study of rats on high fat diets, it was found that supplementation with blueberries led to positive changes in the gut microbiota associated with improvements in inflammation and insulin signaling. Given inflammation is thought to play a role in irritable bowel syndrome, it’s possible blueberries could prove beneficial for IBS symptoms in the long term.
Don’t give up on vegetables! There are still a lot of low FODMAP vegetables that can be enjoyed by IBS sufferers. And just like everyone has their individual tastes, there will be some vegetables that work well for constipation dominant IBS (c-IBS) and others for diarrhoea dominant IBS (d-IBS).
Vegetables with a low FODMAP tend to have lower levels of fructose and also contain the beneficial soluble fibre that helps stool formation and bowel movements in both c-IBS and d-IBS!
Bamboo shoots, bell peppers, carrots, celery, eggplant, green beans, parsnip, potato, squash, zucchini, bok choy, collard greens and baby spinach are a great place to start.
Yoghurt is a great source of probiotics, which are friendly bacteria proven to help relieve IBS symptoms. Yoghurt is made from milk fermented by beneficial bacteria (mainly lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria) which gives it that sour taste and also why it’s suitable for those who have lactose intolerance.
Keep in mind that not all yoghurt is healthy or useful for IBS… you need yoghurt with live or active cultures and preferrable not filled with sugar!
Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, pork and lean cuts of beef (sirloin or eye round) are a great source of protein. These animal proteins are easily digestible and escape intestinal fermentation, meaning you don’t get gas and bloating. They are also an excellent source of iron and the amino acid L-glutamine.
L-glutamine is important for the health of intestinal tissue. It’s involved in immune response, tissue repair and maintaining proper barriers in the gut.
Serious injury or prolonged illness, like IBS can lead to insufficient L-glutamine, requiring increased dietary intake. In addition, the long-term impact of depleted L-glutamine can lead to changes in the intestine walls, which produce symptoms of IBS.
Eating 2-3 serves per week of omega-3 fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines can have multiple benefits on your heart and gut health as well as IBS symptoms.
Elevated tissue omega-3 fatty acids in mice were found to increase intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP), an enzyme that plays an important role in reducing gut inflammation. Studies in humans have also identified that consuming sources of IAP can have a protective effect in inflammatory bowel disease which could impact symptoms of IBS.
Usually found in teas and oils, peppermint is a natural gas-relieving herb, containing monoterpene compounds that can specifically target symptoms of IBS. As well as having antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects on the gastrointestinal tract, the L-menthol content produces an anti-spasmodic effect.
In a comprehensive meta-analysis peppermint oil was shown to be a safe and effective therapy for global symptoms of IBS, including pain, constipation, intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and bloating.
Natural Treatments to ease your IBS symptoms
Avoiding trigger foods and eating more IBS-beneficial foods is a great start to improving symptoms. But why stop there? There are natural remedies that can work towards targeting possible underlying reasons for your IBS symptoms all while improving your digestive health.
While your body produces L-Glutamine naturally, chronic illnesses like IBS can cause deficiencies.
L-Glutamine can help to reduce the IBS symptoms by slowly forming a thin mucosal layer between the bacteria in your intestines and the intestinal wall. This coating allows your intestinal wall to heal while keeping the bacteria contained. As a bonus, L-Glutamine supplementation helps reduce symptoms of anxiety, which is closely linked to IBS.
Studies show that collagen peptides assist in the regulation of stomach acid, help with overall digestion, and also help with repairing and healing a damaged gut lining, which can assist in recovering from this condition.
The Happy Mammoth organic prebiotic blend supports the digestive system and overall health by populating the gut with carefully selected good bacteria that can keep harmful bacteria and yeast from overgrowing. This helps eliminate bloating, gas, pains and other digestive discomforts by improving digestion and nutrient absorption, while also promoting improved mood and anxiety symptoms via the gut-brain axis.
Digestive enzymes are important for the timely breakdown of food to ensure nutrients are easily absorbed. If you’re not producing enough enzymes certain foods are not properly digested, leaving you with fewer nutrients and fermentation in your large intestine. This means you’re left with gas, bloating and discomfort as well as declining health.
Happy Mammoth’s Vital digestive Enzymes contain lipase and other pancreatic enzymes that have been shown to reduce gas bloating and that overfull feeling.
While there’s no ‘cure’ for IBS, you can learn to fight off your IBS symptoms naturally with a suitable diet and the help of beneficial supplements. If you’re ready to wear those favourite jeans without worrying about belly bloat, embarrassing gas, or rushing to the toilet, then take our Free Comprehensive Health Assessment to get a full recommendation on the best products to take.