April is IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Awareness Month. First designated by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in 1997, this initiative aims to raise awareness of the 10% to 15% of Americans who experience the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects digestion, especially by interfering with normal functions of the large intestine. Each person with IBS can struggle with different symptoms and have their own unique triggers.

What are symptoms of IBS?
IBS symptoms can include:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Cramping and abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or constipation, or both
  • Changes in stool and appearance, including having loose stools or mucus in stools

Experts believe that factors that contribute to the development of IBS include: alterations in the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut syndrome), impaired gut-immune function, problems with motility, gut-brain interactions and psychological or emotional disturbances.

Some common underlying causes and triggers of IBS can include:

  • A highly-processed diet
  • Food allergies, intolerances, sensitivities
  • Inflammation, free radical damage
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Use of certain medications that can cause constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Drug use, smoking, high caffeine, high alcohol consumption
  • SIBO, gastroenteritis, infections of the digestive system
  • Hormonal changes
  • Dehydration
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Stress
  • Leaky gut

There are three main types of IBS, categorized according to the predominant symptoms experienced:

  • IBS-D, with predominantly diarrhea
  • IBS-C, with predominantly constipation
  • Mixed IBS, in which both occur

IBS treatment is typically tailored to each individual’s needs, depending on the underlying causes of the condition. Dietary and lifestyle changes are typically first line treatments for IBS.

Here are some of the top recommended IBS-friendly foods:

  • Quality protein – Protein deficiency is common in people with bowel disorders; aim for at least 3-4 ounces of protein per meal..
  • Steamed vegetables – Vegetables that are cooked or steamed are easy to digest and are an essential part of the IBS diet.
  • Healthy fats – Consuming healthy fats in moderation like egg yolks, salmon, avocados, ghee and coconut oil promote healing, and are easier on the digestive system.
  • Homemade bone broth – Contains proline and glycine, which can help repair intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut).

And above all else, prioritize drinking enough quality, filtered water. Hydration is critical to keep the digestive system lubricated and healthy. Aim for ½ your bodyweight in ounces per day. Limit or avoid caffeine, as it can stimulate the digestive tract and worsen symptoms.

Here are some potential IBS trigger foods to avoid:

  • Conventional dairy – Pasteurized dairy is more difficult to digest and may make digestive symptoms worse.
  • Gluten – A gluten-free diet may help improve symptoms. Avoid foods made with or containing wheat, barley and rye grains.
  • Grains – Any type of whole grain will contain phytic acid and starches that can irritate the intestinal lining, causing gut issues.
  • Spicy foods – Hot and spicy foods may worsen IBS symptoms.
  • Gas-causing foods – Carbonated beverages, caffeine, raw fruit, dairy and certain vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) may make gas worse.

In addition to nutritional support, there are lifestyle changes and habits that can help manage IBS symptoms – especially getting enough sleep and stress management. Schedule in rest, enjoyable activities, and time with friends and family. IBS can be approached holistically, through healthy integration of diet, lifestyle and mindset.

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Contributing Author: Jillian Warwick, Certified Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Functional Blood Chemistry Specialist, and Restorative Wellness Practitioner

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