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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder that affects 15-25% of Australians and mainly women. While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, it is believed to be a combination of factors including abnormal muscle contractions in the intestine, inflammation, and changes in the gut microbiome. (1)
IBS is characterised by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, and constipation. (1) Whilst these symptoms are not life-threatening or causing damage to the gut, they can be debilitating and affect quality of life.
In individuals with IBS, the gut-brain connection is highly relevant. (2) The nerves in the gut lining are highly sensitive, and when the brain is in a stressed state, this can cause gut-related symptoms like bloating and abdominal pain. This is known as visceral hypersensitivity.
Determining appropriate management and treatment of symptoms requires a holistic approach and addressing one area, for example diet, may not be enough to improve symptoms in response to the gut-brain connection. Managing IBS symptoms can be challenging, but with the right approach, it is possible to find relief. Here are some effective strategies:
Diet plays a crucial role in managing IBS symptoms. The gold standard for treatment of IBS is the low FODMAP diet, a diet that avoids foods that contain high amounts of Fermented Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. Some examples of these include onion, garlic, cow’s milk, honey, and avocados.
When FODMAPs are consumed, they attract water in the small intestine, causing diarrhoea, abdominal pain & cramping. When FODMAPs reach the large intestine, the resident gut bacteria quickly ferment the FODMAPs, causing gas, flatulence and painful bloating. (3)
The low FODMAP diet has shown the strongest evidence of efficacy, with 68-76% of patients experiencing symptom improvement within 3-4 weeks of commencing the diet. (4) Attempting this diet with your dietitian is always the first recommended step to managing IBS symptoms for those new to the diet. To find an Accredited Practising Dietitian near you, click HERE.
Stress can exacerbate IBS symptoms due to visceral hypersensitivity and the strong gut-brain connection. Incorporating stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and regular physical activity can help reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being.
Gut-directed hypnotherapy is non-invasive therapy designed to mend the connection between the gut and the brain with the help of a qualified therapist. Try Nerva HERE, a digital hypnotherapy app designed to unlock the power of the mind and manage IBS symptoms from the comfort of your own home.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help restore the balance of the gut microbiome. They have been shown to alleviate symptoms of IBS, particularly bloating and gas. There are a variety of low FODMAP probiotic supplements available on the market, including Regular Girl, Happy Belly Fibre, and Sunfiber GI, that won’t exacerbate symptoms like many other supplements.
In some cases, medications may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms of IBS. Antispasmodics can help relieve abdominal pain and cramping, while laxatives or anti-diarrheal medications can provide relief from constipation or diarrhoea. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any medication.
Mintec Peppermint IBS Relief capsules containing medicinal grade peppermint oil (a natural antispasmodic), can alleviate IBS symptoms. Keen to learn more? Check out the Stress and IBS Managing the Symptom Cycle Blog.
Simple lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in managing IBS symptoms. Regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and avoiding smoking can contribute to overall digestive health and reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.
Keeping a symptom diary can help identify patterns and triggers for your IBS symptoms. Note down the foods you eat, your stress levels, and any other factors that may be relevant. This information can be valuable in developing an effective management plan with an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Managing IBS symptoms requires a comprehensive approach that includes dietary modifications, stress management, probiotics, medications (if necessary), lifestyle modifications, and keeping a symptom diary. By implementing these strategies, individuals with IBS can experience significant relief and improve their quality of life.