10 ways to cope with IBS
A few simple lifestyle shifts can make living with the condition more manageable, writes Katie Byrne
1 START A FOOD DIARY
Keeping a comprehensive food diary that details your daily diet and tracks symptoms can help you identify your triggers. To get a deeper insight into your digestive health, you could try one of the many health apps designed for functional GI disorders. Cara (free from the App Store and Google Play) is one of the best rated.
2 TRY PEPPERMINT
Peppermint capsules are proven to relieve the symptoms of IBS, in particular abdominal pain and bloating.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide's Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory found that peppermint, a natural antispasmodic, triggers an "anti-pain" channel in the colon, which soothes pain in the gastrointestinal tract.
Meanwhile, researchers in Italy found that 75pc of people who took peppermint oil capsules for one month showed a 50pc decrease in IBS symptoms.
3 SLOW DOWN
Digestion starts in the mouth. The teeth grind and chew food and the salivary glands produce saliva containing digestive enzymes. This triggers digestive processes throughout the gastrointestinal tract and relaxes the lower stomach.
When we don't take the time to chew food properly, more stress is placed on the stomach, which further irritates the bowel. Researchers at Ohio State University recommend that we chew dense foods like meat and raw vegetables 30 times, and softer foods five to 10 times before swallowing.
As a general rule, if you can still feel parts of the food in your mouth, you haven't chewed it enough.
4 MANAGE STRESS
There is an indisputable link between IBS and stress so it's important to introduce stress-relieving practices like deep breathing, yoga, meditation and mindfulness to your lifestyle. Reducing your caffeine intake, getting enough sleep and spending more time connecting with friends and family are also proven stress-busters.
5 EXERCISE REGULARLY
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg found that exercising for 20 to 30 minutes, five days a week, can significantly improve the symptoms of IBS. Exercise also simulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which balance mood and reduce stress.
6 RECONSIDER YOUR MEDICATION
Certain medications can exacerbate the symptoms of IBS. Codeine-containing painkillers like Solpadeine and Nurofen can cause constipation (or opioid-induced constipation, as it is medically known), while drugs like Aspirin and Ibuprofen can modify gut flora and irritate the gut.
Iron supplements and blood pressure tablets can also be troublesome. If you think medication is leading to gut dysfunction, chat to your GP about an alternative.
7 TAKE A PROBIOTIC
Recent research suggests a link between IBS and gut flora imbalances. Probiotics, which are live bacteria or yeast, can restore the natural balance of the gut and thus improve the symptoms of IBS.
There are a number of probiotics on the market - some of them specifically aimed at optimised gut health.
Dietician Lorraine Maher recommends Alflorex, Symprove and VSL#3 (only available online).
Rather than recommend a branded probiotic, Dr Emeran Mayer, author of The Mind-Gut Connection, tells his patients to increase their consumption of naturally fermented, unpasteurised foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and kimchi instead.
(It's important to note that the effect of probiotics is not cumulative. They only work for as long as you take them.)
8 SOME LIKE IT HOT
Many IBS sufferers find that heat treatment like hot water bottles and heat patches can relax the colon and ease abdominal pain and cramps. Hot showers and baths can also be effective.
9 CONSIDER HYPNOTHERAPY
While some IBS sufferers may be wary of alternative therapies, there is ample evidence to suggest that hypnotherapy can alleviate the symptoms.
Professor Peter Whorwell, one of the leading experts on IBS (and the author of Take Control of your IBS: The Complete Guide to Managing Your Symptoms) has been using hypnotherapy to treat patients at the South Manchester Neurogastroenterology Service for decades.
In an audit of one thousand adult patients with hard-to-treat IBS, Prof Whorwell and his team reported that 76pc experienced a positive effect with hypnotherapy, with symptom severity reduced by half.
The study was published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics in 2015.
1O KNOW YOUR FIBRE
Conventional wisdom suggests that IBS sufferers should increase their fibre intake, but not all fibre is created equal.
"Soluble fibre (e.g. in oat-based products) dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance which slows digestion and the rate at which we empty our stomach, whereas insoluble fibre (e.g. in wheat-based products) has a laxative effect," explains Dr Megan Arroll, co-author of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Navigating Your Way to Recovery. According to Arroll, IBS sufferers should eat more lentils, beans, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, pears, cucumbers, celery, carrots and dried peas, rather than wheat bran, barley, couscous, brown rice and bulgur wheat.
Health & Living