When talking about IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) we are actually referring to a cluster of symptoms which occur together. It is also known as “spastic colon” due to the spasm-like cramps experienced. With IBS, the person experiences symptoms of extreme cramps; bloating and constipation which may also then be followed by bouts of explosive diarrhoea. These symptoms vary in severity and may be worsened with STRESS. Just another wonderful kickback of STRESS (yes, smell the sarcasm there!).
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
When we eat food, it travels to the stomach, through the body to the digestive tract - first through the small intestine (important absorption takes place) and eventually it reaches the COLON. By now, the “food” can be referred to as “stool”.
Sometimes, the stool is too hard and will “clog” the colon causing the stool to come to a complete stop in its travels (a.k.a constipation). When the stool is just lying in the colon, it starts to be fermented by the good bacteria we have in our gut. Usually, this process would last just for a short while before the stool is on the go again out of the colon. But, as the stool is blocked in the colon, this fermentation causes gas build up which results in flatulence; cramps as well as bloating (in some cases nausea may also occur). As the body starts to identify that fermenting-stool as “toxic” - it will start to signal water to the colon to assist in FLUSHING the clogged stool out of the colon (yes, hello diarrhoea).
WHAT WILL FORM BETTER STOOLS?
As I am sure you guessed, the answer is FIBER! It is, however, not as simple as that. We need to take a closer look at the TYPE of fiber.
There are 3 groups of fiber:
- Soluble fiber: This fiber absorbs water to form gel-like consistencies and will help keep stools soft; assists in binding bile and cholesterol. It makes digestion easier BUT may ferment easier - Foods include oats; legumes (without husks: split peas/split lentils); apple (flesh) and citrus fruits.
- Insoluble fiber: It will not form gel-like consistencies but do absorb SOME water. It generally BULKS stool up and may alleviate constipation - Foods include whole grains; vegetables (and their skins).
- Roughage: This refers to some food items which do not absorb any water and does not get broken down/digested at all in the colon: It just stays hard and forms sharp lumps. This fiber may hurt the digestive tract’s walls - especially if it is already inflamed or hurt by e.g. intolerances or even stress. Foods include seeds and pips; the husk on legumes; some grains etc.
For IBS, especially during prevention-periods, we should ensure adequate intakes of both soluble and insoluble fibers - but should rather avoid ROUGHAGE (especially during a flare-up)
- Number one should be to reduce and manage STRESS! Since the anxiety we experience during stress may cause inflammation and poor digestive-functions resulting in slower food-transit time in the bowels: Leaving more time for fermentation (ouch!)
- Eat a combination of soluble and insoluble fibers to ensure the stool is soft enough to pass through the gut with ease, while having enough bulk to actually form a good stool (not too hard, not too soft).
- Avoid high fat intakes; alcohol and caffeine in excessive amounts
- High Fat: It may slow down the stool’s travel time as well - causing an increased risk of flatulence and gas build up
- Alcohol: Women may have 1 alcoholic beverage at a time and men 2 - according to WHO (World Health Organisation)
- Caffeine: Limit caffeinated drinks to 3 or 4 per day: This may also disturb digestion (Avoid especially during diarrhoea-periods)
- Take a strong probiotic and prebiotic supplement: This supports healthy digestive tract walls and good bacteria growth.
- Stay active and do exercise daily: It may assist with constipation and accelerate the time foods pass through your bowels - fewer time for fermentation.
- Ensure that your fluid intake is sufficient - aim for more than 1.5 litres of clean water per day.
Due to the similarity, IBS and food intolerances are often mixed up; always visit your doctor or dietician if any symptoms are alarming you and if it is present for more than 3 days and persists for longer than 3 months; or if you experience any blood in your stool.
For more information on IBS and the dietary management thereof, please contact us!