Irritable Bowel Syndrome, also known as IBS, affects up to 20% of the American population yearly. Interestingly, women are diagnosed more often than men and while most patients only report minor symptoms, some do experience very unsettling symptoms.
What is IBS?
Also referred to as spastic colitis, mucous colitis, irritable colon and spastic colon, IBS should not be confused with inflammatory bowel conditions or similar ailments. It is simply characterized by a collection of very unique symptoms, whose extent differs with each patient. Typically, IBS symptoms can easily last for up to 3 months and although they don’t occur every day, you might notice that they happen once every week or once every two weeks and so on.
Many people fear that once they get IBS, their intestines will get permanently damaged, but that’s not always the case. And having IBS doesn’t mean that you’ll end up developing gastrointestinal cancer either, although it will compromise your quality of life significantly.
Usual IBS symptoms include:
- Bloating and gas
- Stomach pain
- Stomach cramps
Once IBS strikes, you might experience a combination of feeling constipated along with bouts of diarrhea. However, once you pass a stool, then bloating and gas tend to go away after that.
Oftentimes, IBS symptoms come and go, causing sufferers to think that the problem has been resolved, only to come back again at a later stage. While rare, there are some cases where sufferers of the disease will experience symptoms on a consistent basis.
Symptoms of IBS in Women
For women, IBS symptoms tend to show up when it’s that time of the month, and they can also become more pronounced during pregnancy. Menopausal women, on the other hand, tend to see a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of the symptoms as they age.
Symptoms of IBS in Men
Men experience the same IBS symptoms as women, with the only difference being that men are less likely to report the symptoms in order to get a diagnosis like women do.
If you’re feeling severe or prolonged stomach cramps, then it might be a sign of IBS. This is often accompanied by a few other symptoms as well:
- Having to visit the bathroom more or less often than usual
- The pain goes away after you’ve had a stool
- Your stools don’t look the same way they usually do
It is possible for a physician to simply diagnose IBS from hearing about the symptoms from the patients. However, just to be sure, some physicians will go the extra mile by taking the following measures:
- They’ll carry out a colonoscopy to rule out gastrointestinal cancer, Crohn’s disease, and colitis
- Test your blood in order to check for celiac disease and/or anemia
- To rule out the possibility of your condition being caused by food allergies, your doctor might ask you to cut out certain foods from your diet for a while
- To make sure that you don’t have an infection, they might ask for a sample of your stool
Sometimes, all it takes to ease IBS symptoms is to just change the way you eat, but the type of dietary changes that you need to make will depend on your own unique needs.
Unfortunately, IBS has no cure as yet, and the purpose of the available treatment is to simply ease its symptoms. Most doctors start by recommending certain lifestyle changes before moving on to traditional medications.
Home Remedies for IBS
As mentioned, making certain lifestyle changes is often all it takes to get rid of IBS symptoms. Some of the most common and helpful lifestyle changes that are often recommended include:
- Moving your body more frequently
- Reducing or eliminating caffeinated drinks as they tend to stimulate the intestines
- Consuming small meals throughout the day
- Finding ways to reduce stress
- Introducing good bacteria into the gut by taking probiotics
- Steering clear of food that’s spicy or deep-fried
Foods to Avoid with IBS
Changing your diet can do wonders to relieve your IBS symptoms, and most times all it takes is eliminating the stuff we already know is bad for us, such as indigestible sugars and fried foods, as well as dairy and beans for example. Some have found great success with the addition of symptom-relieving herbs like chamomile, ginger, and peppermint.
The following foods might cause your IBS to flare up:
Fiber is an essential part of any diet and can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains. However, there is insoluble fiber which can be tough for some people to digest, and whose consumption can lead to symptoms like diarrhea.
While foods with insoluble fiber can help you to relieve constipation, the downside of consuming these foods is that they may leave you feeling seriously bloated.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, is ideal, and it can be found in the following foods:
- Fruits like berries, grapefruit, oranges, and mangos
- Grains such as barley and oatmeal
- Legumes, like peas
- Root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips
The gluten contained in certain fibers like barley and wheat can cause allergies in certain people. Sufferers of Celiac disease and IBS both tend to experience diarrhea after consuming gluten-filled grains.
Celiac disease sufferers are people who develop an autoimmune response to the ingestion of gluten. What happens is that every time they consume gluten the structure of their intestinal cells changes and they struggle to absorb nutrients properly.
Some gluten-intolerant patients don’t necessarily experience any changes in immune response or the intestinal cells. This type of sensitivity to gluten is not the same as that which is experienced by celiac patients, but it can still cause similar side effects.
Oftentimes, gluten intolerance and IBS go hand-in-hand. Certain research indicates that intolerance to gluten can be a precursor to IBS, which is why some people do find relief from symptoms by simply eliminating gluten from their diets. However, the correlation between IBS and gluten sensitivity differs from one individual to the next; therefore the same remedy may not apply to everyone.
On the bright side, gluten-free products are now widely available, which means that patients do not have to eat dryly in order to eliminate gluten from the diet. In fact, these days you can get gluten-free everything, from cookies to cereals, cakes, pasta and different pizza varieties.
A lot of IBS suffers are lactose intolerant as well, so it only makes sense that they would eliminate dairy from their diets and use substitutes like nut milk and cheeses instead.
It’s also important to remember that dairy is loaded with fat, which only serves to worsen diarrhea in IBS patients.
If you do decide to eliminate dairy from your diet completely, then it might be a good idea to ask for a calcium supplement from your doctor just to be on the safe side.
The Standard American Diet, (also known as the SAD diet for good reason) is characterized by fried foods like fries, burgers, and hotdogs etc. While it is okay to consume these foods in moderation, most people tend to just overindulge. What they don’t realize is that the body finds it very difficult to digest fried food due to the high-fat content, and the best way to avoid all that is to simply grill or bake your food instead.
Beans and Legumes
While beans are a great way to get some fiber and protein into your diet, they can also lead to IBS symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating and gas. That’s why IBS patients are often advised to stay away from beans and legumes.
Coffee has to be one of the most widely consumed beverages on the planet. However, the high caffeine content found in coffee works to stimulate the intestines, thus leading to IBS symptoms like diarrhea. Similar beverages like sodas and energy drinks can also have the same effect. The good news is that you can easily substitute them with other energy boosting methods like taking a brisk walk or by getting a quick healthy snack.
As an IBS sufferer, you might want to start reading your food labels so that you can avoid processed foods that contain preservatives and additives.
Examples of processed foods include premade frozen foods, chips and cookies, all of which are almost always high in fat. Your best bet is to cook your own meals or consume fresh food that hasn’t gone through extensive processing.
Just because something says “sugar-free” on the label doesn’t mean that it’s good for you.
So-called sugar-free gum, candy, and diet drinks, all contain substitutes and sweeteners like polyols and sugar alcohols etc., as well as other harmful ingredients like aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose. If these sound like a mouthful for you to pronounce, imagine what it must be like for your body to digest them!
Simply put, the body is not designed to ingest these ingredients, which is why you should stick to foods with simple ingredients as much as possible, and make sure to read the label on any foods you purchase.
Chocolate is a highly caffeinated product with lots of sugar, and as such, it can cause IBS symptoms like constipation. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to give up chocolate altogether, as there are some really good vegan alternatives out there which contain ingredients that are gentler on your stomach.
Alcoholic drinks are not a good idea for people with IBS due to the high sugar and gluten content contained in some of these beverages. Not only that, but drinking alcohol can leave you feeling extremely dehydrated, which in turn compromises your digestion and liver function.
Instead of eliminating alcohol from your diet though, you can choose to imbibe in moderation, as that can help you to avoid IBS symptoms. Plus, there are gluten-free beers, vegan wines and plain seltzers available to mix your drinks with nowadays, and you can even find alcoholic beverages without added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
Garlic and Onions
Garlic and onions are two of the most widely used food flavorings in the world and for good reason. Both these ingredients add a distinctly delicious taste to foods and are indispensable for certain recipes. The downside of consuming food with garlic and onion is that it might cause you to get stomach cramps and bloating, whether you have them in raw or cooked form.
Broccoli and Cauliflower
Most people find it so difficult to digest cauliflower and broccoli that consuming these foods can trigger IBS symptoms such as constipation and gas.
A great way to reduce their effects is to grate them before eating, as this helps to simplify the digestive process for your body. However, note that this only reduces the risk of getting an IBS flare-up, it doesn’t eliminate it.
What to Eat Instead
IBS sufferers might want to look into the FODMAP diet which consists of reducing or eliminating the intake of foods that contain Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. These are basically short-chain carbohydrates that the body finds difficult to digest, and since they can cause a spike in bowel fluids, consuming them can lead to IBS symptoms like diarrhea, stomach pain, and gas.
The FODMAP diet basically allows you to reduce or eliminate foods with:
- Added fiber
- Chickpeas and lentils
- Lactose and dairy
- Vegetables such as artichokes, broccoli, garlic and onions
- Products that have high fructose corn syrup
However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll starve, because you can still eat foods like:
- Cheeses like Brie or feta
- Dairy alternatives and lactose-free milk
- Fruits like cantaloupe, honeydew melon, kiwi and strawberries
- Proteins like beef, chicken, fish, and tofu
- Vegetables like bok choy, eggplant, lettuce, potatoes and turnips
With all that said, it’s important to keep in mind that different people will react differently to certain foods than others. So, your best bet is to eat according to your body’s unique makeup. If you’re not quite sure what the ideal diet is for you, then perhaps you should consult with a registered dietician.
Should home remedies like changing your diet or lifestyle not be enough to help with your IBS symptoms, then your physician will move onto more traditional medications. Now, it might take a while before your doctor is able to figure out what combination of medications is right for you, so be patient during this process.
It’s also important to disclose other types of medications you are currently taking, whether traditional or homeopathic. This will help your doctor to prescribe you something that won’t interact with your IBS medication.
Also, IBS medications come in all forms, and while some are designed to treat particular symptoms, others work to heal all the symptoms. For example, for IBS sufferers who primarily experience constipation and gas, lubiprostone and linaclotide are both very effective treatments. On the other hand, some drugs are able to treat the whole gamut of the symptoms that you’re experiencing.
What Causes IBS?
There is no general consensus as yet as to what exactly causes IBS. However, it is believed that the following factors can contribute:
Muscle contractions in the intestine. Your intestinal walls contract every time you ingest food in order to process it. However, certain foods trigger longer-lasting contractions of the muscles that run along the intestinal walls, thus causing symptoms like bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Also, if you’re experiencing dry and hard stools, then your intestinal contractions are probably weak as well.
Nervous system. When you pass hard stools or experience excessive gas, you might start to feel a lot more discomfort than usual, as the nerves in your digestive system struggle to respond properly to even the most normal digestive processes. This often leads to IBS symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea and stomach pain.
Inflammation in the intestines. Oftentimes, the pain and diarrhea associated with IBS are caused by a surplus of intestinal cells.
Severe infection. Other times, a stomach bug like gastroenteritis can lead to severe diarrhea that ends up causing IBS. Likewise, a bacterial surplus in your intestines can also result in IBS.
Changes in bacteria in the gut (microflora). It’s important for you to have good bacteria in your gut such as Microflora, in order to keep your intestines healthy. Unfortunately, many IBS sufferers struggle to maintain optimal levels of Microflora like normal and healthy people do.
There are certain triggers that IBS sufferers need to avoid in order to keep the condition in check. These triggers differ from one person to the other and could be anything from stress and anxiety to certain types of food.
Also, you can record the effect that different foods have on you through a food diary in order to figure out which ones act as triggers and which ones are safe.
You can also try to reduce your anxiety and stress levels by eliminating your exposure to places and situations that trigger it. This may involve a fair bit of planning on your part but it will help you to develop useful strategies to manage your stress better in the long run.
IBS and Stress
Most people don’t realize this, but your nervous system is largely responsible for your digestive processes, and since stress affects your nerves, it only makes sense that it would influence your digestive system as well. That’s why IBS sufferers have a hyper-reactive colon that can get easily disturbed. Not only that but your immune system health can also affect IBS, and stress tends to affect immune function too.
IBS and Weight Loss
While having IBS won’t necessarily affect your weight, if you skip meals in a bid to avoid experiencing symptoms then you will inevitably lose a few pounds. Unfortunately, a lot of IBS sufferers experience severe stomach cramps or diarrhea right after they eat, which can really affect their desire for food, as well as their ability to get the nutrients they need.
IBS and Diarrhea
IBS that is characterized by frequent bouts of diarrhea is different in that, it mainly upsets your large intestine. With this type of IBS, you might experience symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and frequent stools. If worse comes to worse, it might even cause you to lose control over your bowel movements from time to time.
IBS and Constipation
The type of IBS that comes with constipation usually manifests itself in young adults and adolescents, and it’s characterized by difficulty in passing stools or passing hard and painful ones. Some people even experience constipation as well.
Sometimes the first step towards beating IBS is to find better ways to manage your stress levels, and you can do this by:
Counseling. You can consult with a counselor who’ll teach you effective stress-management techniques. Psychotherapy has also been shown to offer sustained and substantial relief from IBS symptoms.
Biofeedback. Biofeedback therapy uses electrical sensors that make it easier for you to perceive the feedback you’re receiving from your body. You can then use these feedback cues to develop certain techniques like relaxing certain muscles, which will help you to manage the symptoms better.
Progressive relaxation exercises. With these exercises, you can progressively relax all the muscles in your body, starting with your feet and then work your way up. All you have to do is tighten and relax your muscles, one by one.
Mindfulness training. Mindfulness training is all about focusing your attention on the present moment, which helps to release all the tension that you experiencing as a result of certain distractions and daily worries.
Top 7 Travel Tips for People with IBS
Traveling while you’re experiencing an IBS flare-up is understandably difficult.
For example, you might be at a work function and struggle to find foods that won’t trigger a flare-up, and the same can be said of certain restaurants or resort establishments that don’t carry a wide range of foods to cater for IBS sufferers.
IBS can make it difficult for you to go out with loved ones as well because you’ll be apprehensive about trying out new foods or being in situations that you cannot control.
That said, it is definitely possible for you to develop strategies that’ll make it easier for you to travel with IBS.
Skip the Local Delicacies
When traveling, try to eat simply and stick to what you know, as trying new and exotic foods can lead to untimely flare-ups that may end up spoiling your entire trip.
A great way to avoid diet faux-pas when traveling is to plan ahead, and you can do this by checking a restaurant’s menu online before you make a reservation or keep snacks with you at all times so that you’re not caught unprepared. Another great tip is to stock up on your own perishables whenever you travel to a new place so that you won’t have to depend on room service and/ or fast food.
Prep with Stool Softeners
Traveling on a regular basis can also cause IBS related constipation, and this might be due to a tight working schedule or not having access to bathroom facilities.
A great way to prevent constipation while traveling is to take stool softeners before your trip.
Try to Reduce Stress Before Flying
Some people fear that they won’t be able to access bathroom facilities once they board a plane, and this, in turn, causes them to develop flying anxiety. However, certain medications like anxiolytics can be taken before traveling to prevent this problem.
If you’re not quite into pills and all that, then you can take other measures like communicating with the person seated next to you so that they’re not apprehensive about letting you pass through when you want to go to the bathroom. Alternatively, you can book an aisle seat.
Other methods you can try out to relieve flight anxiety include listening to some calming music and practicing some relaxing exercises from a meditation app.
Start Taking a Probiotic a Few Days Before Travel
Food poisoning is a possibility for any traveler, and it can lead to IBS symptoms like diarrhea. That’s why it’s always recommended for IBS patients to take a probiotic before they travel in order eliminate the risk of getting what is known as traveler’s diarrhea. The same tip can also help to keep irritable bowel syndrome in check.
Keep Up Your Healthy Habits
The change of routine brought on by traveling can sometimes lead to stress, which is known to trigger IBS. A good way to avoid this is to develop and maintain healthy lifestyle habits like getting regular exercise even when you’re traveling.
Also, try and stick to your regular sleeping schedule no matter where you are.
Learn the Local Tongue
Learning the local language of the destination you’re traveling to is very important when you’re an IBS sufferer, as it enables you to make simple requests like asking for the bathroom or certain foods in restaurants.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to learn the entire language, only a few key phrases that’ll make it easier for you to communicate your needs to the locals.
Be Flexible With Your IBS Traveling Strategy
It’s important to not get overwhelmed here, and keep in mind that IBS symptoms manifest differently for each person.
For example, while one individual might be able to eat a little curry every now and then without any issue, another person might flare-up just from consuming small amounts of it.
What this shows is that IBS symptoms differ from one person to the next, so it’s no use stressing yourself out ahead of a trip just because you’re worried about what might go wrong. Your best bet is to try and keep an open mind whenever you travel and approach your trip with a positive outlook.
Should You Use L-Glutamine for IBS?
L-glutamine is an amino acid that’s great at facilitating optimal tissue function in your intestines. As a result, it is often utilized by IBS patients to preserve the integrity of the intestinal walls.
The intestinal ailment known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is surprisingly common, and you might notice it by the following symptoms:
- Feeling bloated
- Chronic stomach upset
- Passing stools with white mucus
- General irregularity
L-glutamine can be used to minimize the severity and frequency of these symptoms for IBS sufferers, as IBS can potentially cause you to develop a deficit in L-glutamine.
Other causes of an L-glutamine deficit include:
- Chemotherapy treatment
- Major infections
- Significant stress
- Radiation treatment
- Vigorous exercise
Not having enough L-glutamine in your diet can also lead to low levels, while an immune disease like HIV/ AIDS can also exacerbate your condition.
While your body naturally produces L-glutamine, you can also consume it as a store-bought supplement or powder, and you can also ask your doctor for the prescription. There are also certain L-glutamine rich foods that you can consume to increase your levels.
Foods that are rich in L-glutamine include:
One of the best ways to correct an L-glutamine deficiency is to take a supplement of it whenever you’re experiencing severe illness or extreme stress, as that tends to deplete your L-glutamine levels significantly.
That said, you might want to speak to your doctor first before you purchase any L-glutamine supplement, so that they can give you a proper prescription for it.
What to Look Out for When Taking L-Glutamine?
L-glutamine is generally safe to consume, especially if you take it according to the dosages recommended by your doctor. Overconsumption of L-glutamine can weaken your health significantly so try and avoid that at all costs.
While the maximum dosage for L-glutamine is usually 30 grams per day, your doctor will probably recommend a dosage that is unique to your particular case.
Also, those who’re allergic to L-glutamine may also experience side-effects like hives, joint pain, nausea, and vomiting. So the best thing to do when you experience these side-effects is to seek immediate medical care.
L-glutamine supplements can potentially help you to relieve IBS symptoms, and the best part is that they’re extremely safe as well. However, it is always a good idea to speak with your doctor before you take anything.
Once your doctor has prescribed the L-glutamine supplements for you, make sure that you take it according to the recommended dosages. This will enable the supplement to work its magic on you while maintaining a healthy L-glutamine tolerance.
It’s important to note here that L-glutamine consumption is generally not recommended for cancer patients, as it can cause cancer cells to multiply rapidly. That said, there is currently not enough research into the subject to pinpoint which cancers specifically interact with L-glutamine.