Want to beat the abdominal pain, bloating and discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome? Follow our action plan.
IBS is a common disorder of the digestive tract which results in a range of symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating and intermittent bouts of diarrhoea or constipation. There’s no cure, but symptoms can often be eased with diet and lifestyle changes. Karen Maidment, author of The Digest-Ease Cookbook & Lifestyle Plan (£9.99, www.endibsnaturally.com), shares her tips to dealing with the condition.
Step 1: Beat cravings
Ironically, the foodstuffs you crave are often the foods you’re sensitive to. Sensitivities to specific foods can create a range of digestive and bowel issues and as a result these foods often remain undigested in the gut, entering the blood stream via a damaged gut wall. Once in the bloodstream, receptor sites in the brain are triggered creating morphine like effects and releasing endorphins. These endorphins then create the craving for the very food that’s causing the problem!
Start a food diary and monitor your consumption and cravings. When you notice a correlation, cut the offending food from your diet for three months and see how much better you feel.
Step 2: Reduce your grains
Grains are made up of outer layers that are difficult to digest, and in a delicate gut can create pain and bloating. Grains also break down into simple sugars in the body and harmful bugs in the gut multiply when they’re present. Simple sugars cause blood sugar spikes, which if repeatedly consumed can disrupt insulin production and cause energy, mood and chronic weight issues.
Reduce your grain consumption gradually (rice, pasta, cous cous, flour and cereals) by one portion per day every few weeks, until you begin feeling symptom free.
Step 3: Get tested
IBS symptoms are a sign that something is living in your gut that shouldn’t be there. Pathogenic bacteria, parasites, yeast and fungal overgrowth cause damage and inflammation, which can spread through the body resulting in an array of uncomfortable symptoms. Laboratory testing is a great way to pinpoint exactly what pathogenic bugs are present and how much damage has been caused. With the help of a skilled practitioner, you will be able to make the right steps towards a long-lasting recovery.
Consider laboratory stool testing from a qualified functional medicine practitioner to find out what bugs are living in your gut, what harm they’re doing and how to get rid of them.
Step 4: Go local
If you are suffering from IBS your gut will be damaged and inflamed. When the gut is damaged, your ability to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat is greatly reduced and more often than not, your body will be malnourished resulting in low immunity and energy levels.
To ensure maximum nutrient availability, switch to seasonal, local and organic whole foods. Farmers’ markets and organic box schemes are an easy, affordable way of making the switch.
Step 5: Ditch gluten
Gluten (the sticky protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats) is the number one offender for painful IBS symptoms. Gluten sensitivity can create chronic pain and inflammation anywhere in the body where you have a genetic weakness. A gluten-free diet may sound daunting but there are heaps of recipes, information online and in book shops and many practitioners are now offering practical workshops to teach you how to make scrummy gluten-free meals.
Try a 28-day elimination. If you feel noticeably better, you know gluten is an offender!
Step 6: De-stress your life
Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, from the exciting stress of planning your wedding to the unwanted stress of financial debt. The digestive system is intimately linked to the brain, which is why IBS symptoms are often worse during times of emotional stress. The body responds to perceived stress by switching off all systems it doesn’t deem as vital for immediate survival. These are digestion, elimination and reproduction. Therefore, high stress levels can cause gut inflammation resulting in food sensitivities and uncomfortable IBS symptoms. In addition, excess stress levels weaken the immune system making you more susceptible to picking up gut pathogens and bacteria.
Create 10 minutes of quiet time each day when you focus on being still, breathing deeply and peaceful thoughts. Identify your stressor and make practical steps to alleviate the problem.
Step 7: Heal your body
So, you’ve identified the offending foods and gut bugs, you’re eating extra nutritious meals and you’re de-stressing; these are your first steps to good gut health. Step two is the vital healing process – if you don’t give the gut enough time to heal, the door will always be open for invading pathogens, bacteria and food sensitivities to reignite your issues. Time, stress management and TLC is key.
Avoid any foods you are sensitive to along with inflammatory foods such as sugar, alcohol and caffeine for at least three months, or longer if your symptoms are chronic.