IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome, You Don’t Have to Suffer!

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, more commonly known as IBS, can occur in as many as 1 in 5 Australians at some point during their lifetime. Most of us are familiar with the typical symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Flatulence

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to exclude medical pathology, however once this has been done, it can be very frustrating to live with the diagnosis of IBS. So what are the causes of IBS and what approaches to management have been shown to be beneficial.

1.Food Sensitivities

Non coeliac gluten intolerance is becoming increasingly common in Western society. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley and this protein is very difficult for the body to breakdown. Also it has been found that gluten can affect the intestinal permeability leading to leaky gut which may potentially trigger an inflammatory immune response in susceptible individuals.

Apart from gluten, other foods that can trigger IBS symptoms include dairy, sugar and caffeine. Sometimes an elimination diet may be necessary to pinpoint the exact foods that are causing the symptoms.

2.FODMAPs

This is an acronym for fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Basically these are naturally occurring carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in many foods including certain fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy products and nuts.

Unfortunately in some people, the FODMAPs are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and can be rapidly fermented by the normal gut organisms. If there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine or a dysbiosis

(abnormal composition of gut organisms) this can be aggravated further, producing significant amounts of gas resulting in bloating and flatulence plus altered bowel habits. It is thought that up to 75% of all IBS sufferers may have their symptoms alleviated by trialling a low FODMAP diet.

3.Intestinal Dysbiosis

As mentioned in FODMAPs, an overgrowth of organisms in the small intestine may lead to excessive fermentation of certain naturally occurring food groups. When there is an extreme overgrowth, this is known as SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

SIBO can be diagnosed with specialised breath testing and may require a prolonged course of herbal antimicrobials or in some cases even antibiotics.

Certain parasites may be associated with IBS symptoms also. Blastocystis and Dientamoeba fragilis are 2 parasites that are becoming increasingly diagnosed. Not every person with these parasites will become symptomatic, however in some people, treatment of these organisms can cause dramatic improvements in symptoms.

4.Stress Management

You guessed it! Stress has a direct effect on the gastrointestinal tract via the Vagus nerve which can affect gut motility and also a direct effect on the gut microbiome. Numerous clinical studies have validated the connection between stress and IBS symptoms, so those butterflies in the stomach really do occur. Obviously then, strategies to deal with stress are important and mindfulness, yoga and psychological counselling all have a role to play.

Although Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be incredibly frustrating, the good news is that you don’t have to live with the symptoms. There are strategies available that can help and in some cases totally eliminate the symptoms. You don’t have to suffer!