What is irritable bowel syndrome?
You may recognize it in its short form as IBS. IBS is a functional gut disorder, meaning that your digestive system is not working the way it’s supposed to. Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS in the world.
Approximately 5 million Canadians have IBS, and another 120, 000 Canadians develop IBS every year. IBS is one of those health problems that people have, but few tend to talk about, so keep in mind that it is not as uncommon as you may think.
Common symptoms of IBS
Some common symptoms of IBS include:
• stomach pain
Some people can have all of these symptoms which can be recurring and persistent. These symptoms differ per individual and they may even change over time.
What causes IBS?
The jury is still out on the exact cause of IBS. Some research suggests that family history of IBS and other digestive disorders, previous gut infections, stressful events and imbalance of gut bacteria can trigger its onset. There is emerging research centred around the gut microbiota and our overall health.
When we talk about the gut microbiota, we’re focusing in on the good and the bad bacteria. When it comes to our health, and especially our gut health, the good bacteria are the star players. In order for them to help us, we need to help them first. These good bacteria thrive when we provide them with proper fuel—fibre.
Some foods, like certain types of carbohydrates, feed the bad bacteria in our gut which can cause bloating and gassiness that you may feel. These bacteria get excited and are going to town and fermenting these carbohydrates, which can result in uncomfortable IBS symptoms. As well, some individuals lack the ability to digest these carbohydrates, which can also exacerbate their symptoms.
There are no perfect tests when it comes to diagnosing someone with IBS, so unlike other health problems, the symptoms are used to diagnose rather than test results. That’s not to say that tests won’t be run by your physician, as these can help rule out other potential health issues.
What can I do to manage it?
IBS can really put a damper on activities in your daily life, like going to work, travelling or even eating! Stress can be a contributor to the symptoms of IBS. It’s important to identify the possible stress triggers to help with your mental health overall as well as your symptoms. These days, we are always on the go, with demands pulling us in a hundred different directions. As hard as it may be, it is important to make time for ourselves, do things we enjoy and get a good night’s rest!
Some people find that there are certain foods that may trigger their symptoms. The low FODMAP diet is strongly supported by research as a means to help reduce your symptoms.
What is a FODMAP?
FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. This acronym refers to a group of carbohydrates which can be poorly digested and ferment in our gut, and for some people, cause unpleasant IBS symptoms.
Following the low FODMAP diet reduces the total amount of these fermentable carbohydrates you consume at a time.
Think about your FODMAP threshold as a bucket. The size of the bucket differs between individuals - some buckets are smaller and some are larger. For those who have a larger bucket, they can eat foods containing FODMAPs freely and comfortably. For those who have a smaller bucket, their threshold of high FODMAP foods is lower, so if they overfill their bucket, they can experience IBS symptoms.
FODMAPs are prevalent in a lot of the foods – both healthy and not - that we eat and are available to us, so to follow a low FODMAP diet can be quite restrictive. To ensure you also meet your nutritional needs, consult a registered dietitian who will help you to safely follow the low FODMAP diet.
It is important to know that food does NOT cause IBS, but rather, it contributes to IBS symptoms. Therefore, the low FODMAP should be thought of as a tool to help manage your IBS symptoms. This diet starts with a period of restriction and followed by a reintroduction phase. Proper reintroduction is KEY to long term gut health. Your registered dietitian will help you through this process!
I always say, the low FODMAP diet is a bandaid solution. Helpful under the guide of an experienced professional, to determine the best course of action for symptom management, and to better understand the underlying causes of your gut symptoms and how best to improve them.
So many more of my clients are successful when they have a dietitian involved in their nutrition. You NEED individual, quality advice, which is exactly why I advocate for people to see a dietitian to get to the bottom of their symptoms - what the underlying issue is that impacts their digestion.
How are YOU feeling?
There's more to gut health than meets the eye. A dietitian can help YOU to determine the best course of action. Sometimes FODMAP's aren't the be-all-and-end-all. Sometimes having a gut-health expert review your symptoms, work with your health care team and determine the best course of action for YOU is what is needed.
The reality is guys, some people do well on their own with nutrition intervention, but when it comes to the low FODMAP diet, it's few and far between. I'm the perfect example. I'm a dietitian for goodness-sake, and I felt that I didn't even have the tools to do it right.
Working with someone who has experience in this area, can be an advocate for your care, and understands that there's more to IBS and gut health than JUST NUTRITION is key.
If you want to work with an dietitian on this, or even just learn more, hop over to Ignite Nutrition.
Otherwise, I'll be seeing you in my newsletters! (and that's OK! One-on-one counselling isn't everyones cup of tea).
It brings a level of accountability and commitment. It might challenge your beliefs, and push you outside your comfort zone.
If you're not ready for counselling, following us on social media and through the blog can give you some additional support. We give a ton of great information away for free, and we're here when you're ready.)
-Andrea Hardy, RD