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Irritable bowel syndrome

by Elizabeth Hartland [email protected]

Elizabeth Hartland has a Bachelor of Science Degree in nutrition, together with a Diploma from the Institute of Nutritional Therapy. She is married with two young children and has a passion for good nutrition and helping others to find better health. This is the first in a series of monthly articles on nutrition.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 8% to 14% of the population on any given day, and is the most common of all gastrointestinal ailments.

What is IBS?

IBS is termed a ‘functional’ disorder meaning that there is no actual disease to account for the symptoms experienced; it is simply a disorder of the way in which the bowel functions.

The diagnosis of IBS is, therefore, generally given when tests have eliminated the possibility of infection, gallstones, cancer and other organic disease.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms − and their severity − vary from person to person covering two basic groups:

1. Spastic colon-type. In this group, bowel movements are variable. Most patients have pain over one or more areas of the colon associated with periodic constipation or diarrhoea. For some patients, constipation and diarrhoea alternate. The pain is either colicky, coming in bouts, or a continuous dull ache often relieved by a bowel movement. Mucus or slime is frequently present in the stools. Symptoms are commonly triggered by eating. Other symptoms that may be present are bloating, flatulence, nausea, headache, fatigue, depression, anxiety and difficulty in concentration.

2. Painless diarrhoea type. In this group, bowel movements are usually urgent consisting of precipitous diarrhoea occurring immediately upon arising and/or during or immediately after a meal.

Other health conditions often associated with IBS include:

Food intolerance

Food intolerance is frequently found to be linked to IBS particularly for people who have allergies or come from families with allergies.

Clinical studies have found the most commonly offending foods to be grains (especially wheat), dairy products, coffee, tea and citrus fruits. Intolerance to lactose (the sugar in milk) is also common.

Gut dysbiosis

Living within our guts are numerous bacteria and other micro-organisms. Many of these, the ‘friendly’ flora are an essential part of our digestion. Problems arise when the ‘unfriendly’ bacteria outrun the good ones.

An imbalance between the beneficial and unfriendly bacteria is known as dysbiosis, and may contribute to IBS in some patients.

Parasite infection

Parasite infection may also be a contributing factor for those suffering from IBS.

Diet and lifestyle recommendations

IBS is believed to be caused and/or aggravated by several physiological factors, with nutrition and stress being two important points to address.

Dietary considerations

It is important to realise that there may be a great amount of individual variation in reactions to food especially in those suffering from IBS.

Whilst the following list may be of some help, an individual assessment with a qualified nutritionist would probably produce the best results for many sufferers.

Potential aggravating factors

• Known food allergens.

• Foods that encourage inflammation in the gut including coffee, tea, alcohol, cola based drinks, strong spices, artificial sweeteners, refined (processed) foods and fried foods.

• Wheat, together with the other grains containing gluten i.e. oats, barley and rye, is often found to aggravate the symptoms of I.B.S.

• Dairy products can cause diarrhoea and abdominal pain particularly in those with lactose intolerance.

• Sulphur-rich foods or foods that have sulphite added as a preservative including bread, eggs, onions, most dried fruits and cheep wines/beers.

• Sugar. A diet high in sugar may feed the ‘unfriendly’ bacteria in the gut.

• Saturated fats. Rich meals containing a high content of saturated fat are very hard to digest especially when the digestive system is already in a poor state. A high intake of fatty foods may contribute to diarrhoea or constipation.

• Overeating and eating too late.

• Stress. The functioning of the digestive tract is under the intricate effects of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which we do not consciously control. Stress, including strong emotions, anxiety, illness and even food allergies will disrupt the ANS control of the digestive system. In a stressful situation the ANS will react by diverting energy from other systems in the body i.e. the digestive system, for use in the systems that require energy to deal with the emergency. This effectively shuts down the digestive system which, with prolonged stress, is likely to lead to symptoms of IBS. In some situations the ANS reaction is so strong that it can result in immediate diarrhoea.

Learning how to resist or combat stress will help to regain the ANS control of the digestive system helping to relieve symptoms of IBS.

To book an appointment, please contact Elizabeth Hartland on 282427652, 916384029 or [email protected]