With around 20% of Australians suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it’s no wonder there is so much interest in gut health, and how best to manage the symptoms of IBS. So, what is it about our gut that is so important, and how do we improve our gut health?


What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional gut disorder, which presents with symptoms of bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and abdominal pain. Individuals may live with all or some of these symptoms. Understandably, this can have a significant impact on quality of life, and ability to participate in the day to day activity.


Why can it be hard to diagnose?

IBS doesn’t cause any structural or physical changes to the digestive tract. other conditions often need to be ruled out first, such as bowel cancer, coeliac disease, or inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative colitis. This can make it a long and frustrating process. However, it is important to ensure that one of these other conditions is not present first.


What causes IBS?

IBS may be caused by a number of things. Genetics, history of the gut parasite, food poisoning and significant periods of high stress can all result in the development of IBS. IBS symptoms are often triggered by consumption of high FODMAP food.


What are FODMAPs?

FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are different types of carbohydrates that are either poorly absorbed or digested. When they are poorly absorbed, increased water may be drawn into the gut, resulting in diarrhea. Or, the carbohydrates travel to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria, which then produces gas. This gas can lead to additional symptoms of IBS including bloating, constipation, flatulence, pain and nausea.


What role does stress play?

Those with high levels of anxiety and stress-related disorders are more susceptible to symptoms of IBS, due to stress exacerbating the condition. Managing stress levels in your day-to-day life will help manage your IBS. This can be done by including activities that reduce stress levels. This includes walking or yoga, ensuring you get enough sleep, practicing some light meditation, and generally taking time out for self-care.


How is IBS best managed?

Being mindful of triggers makes it easier to manage IBS symptoms in the long term.


So, what can you do to help manage your IBS?

  1. Determine your triggers. Knowing what makes your IBS worse is key for managing symptoms on a regular basis.
  1. Make food choices which are right for you. Reduce your intake of known food triggers (such as FODMAPs, fatty food and chilli), include prebiotic foods to help improve the variety of healthy bacteria in your gut, and drink plenty of water.
  1. Better manage stress levels. This helps reduce your chances of developing symptoms.
  1. Get enough sleep. Prioritising the minimum seven hours sleep a night helps reduce stress, and allows the body the time it needs to rest.


By Chloe McLeod, Director of The FODMAP Challenge, the online course to help you manage your IBS.


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