IBS is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. It can cause stomach cramps, bloating, excessive wind, diarrhea and/or constipation. IBS usually develops between the age of 20 and 30, and affects 1 in 5 people in the UK, the majority of whom are women. The symptoms affect individuals differently and are fairly unpredictable – often IBS sufferers will go for prolonged periods of time with no symptoms and then experience sudden flare ups which tend to last a few days to a few months at a time. This is why it is important to adopt permanent changes in your diet and lifestyle if you hope to reduce symptoms and likelihood of bad episodes of IBS. This is something nutritional therapy can help with.
Potential causes of IBS:
1) Disrupted functioning of gut movement: The digestive system works in a complex rhythm, the contracting muscles working to squeeze and release food through the body. Many experts believe that IBS is a symptom of malfunctioning gut movement. This could be due to miscommunication between the brain and the gut, leading to muscle contractions which are either too quick (which can cause diarrhoea) or too slow (which can cause constipation).
2) Extra sensitive nerves: The digestive system is controlled and monitored by nerve impulses sent to and from the brain via the autonomic nervous system. Nerve impulses are responsible for telling the brain when we are too full, when we are hungry or when we need to use the toilet.
The bowel often responds to stimuli with violent contractions that would usually pass unnoticed. IBS sufferers, who experts believe to be extra sensitive to these nerve impulses, would be more likely to feel these contractions.
3) Psychological factors: Psychological factors such as trauma, stress and anxiety have been found to induce IBS.
The digestive system is heavily controlled by hormones and chemicals. It is believed that during a particularly stressful time in a person’s life, the hormones released in response can interfere with the normal functioning of the digestive hormone regulators.
IBS can be very uncomfortable and even debilitating. This can have a negative impact on your quality of life and emotional wellness. It is not uncommon that people with IBS also struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety. Three out of four people living with IBS will experience depression at some point in their life and over half of IBS sufferers will develop generalised anxiety disorder. A nutritional therapist is understanding of this link between food and mood and can offer personalised dietary advice to help address the issue.
Lifestyle and dietary changes to consider if you suffer from IBS:
- identifying and avoiding foods or drinks that trigger your symptoms
- altering the amount of fibre in your diet
- exercising regularly
A nutritional therapist can help those who suffer with IBS adapt their lifestyle and diet to best relieve their symptoms.