April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month. IBS is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, affecting one in 20 people.
Pain in the abdomen is a common symptom of IBS with disturbances in the bowels. Some experience diarrhea, others have constipation, and some will alternate between the two. Women experience IBS more often than men.
This chronic disorder affects quality of life for many people, causing them to reduce their social activities, stop travelling, skip meals because they don’t want to deal with the bowel after-effects, miss workdays, and schedule more doctor appointments.
These factors may contribute to IBS:
- early life stressors such as physical and sexual abuse
- bacterial infection in digestive tract
- history of food intolerances
A diagnosis made by a gastroenterologist can/will/may
- review symptoms
- review family history and medical history, including recent infections
- rule out other issues that may mimic IBS like celiac disease and Crohn's disease
- assess blood work
- request a stool test
- check for unintentional weight loss
- assess for anemia
- evaluate medicines
If there is a diagnosis of IBS, dietary treatment will probably include recommendations for
- a balanced diet with three nourishing meals – always begin with the basics to have a healthy foundational diet
- avoidance of overeating
- slow eating and chewing food well
- a relaxing eating environment
- a decrease carbonated beverages
Other tips to manage IBS:
- It may be helpful to gradually increase soluble fiber foods such as oats, cooked beans and fruit. Keep a food diary, making note of GI symptoms and foods eaten to pinpoint troublesome foods or beverages.
- You might need to reduce the frequency or amount of gas-producing foods such as onions, broccoli and cabbage, or take BEANO supplement when you eat gassy foods.
- Your GI doctor might also suggest that you take a probiotic to increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut, helping with digestion.
- Stress, certain foods, hormonal changes and certain medications can all bring about symptoms. Don’t forget the benefits to your intestinal tract and overall well-being from regular exercise, a good night of sleep and stress relief strategies such as journaling and meditation.
About the Author
Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.