In Health

What to do when IBS leaves your Stomach in Knots


What is IBS?

Imagine eating your favorite meal, or being bombarded with stress or anxiety, only to spend what seems like a lifetime in the bathroom a short time later.  This is just a day in the life of a person suffering  from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  Irritable Bowel Syndrome, also known as spastic colon, is a condition which affects primarily the large intestine. Symptoms include, but are not limited to diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramping, and nausea (see below for a more complete list of symptoms).  These symptoms are harsh and could lead to emotional stress and physical discomfort.  The good news is that Irritable Bowel Syndrome is completely manageable by both natural methods and by medication.

There are a various symptoms of IBS:

  • Distention of the Abdomen
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Some people may have constant abdominal pain with a change in bowel habits
  • Constipation
  • Pain  that accompanies bowel movements
  • Painful diarrhea
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Early satiety
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor nutrient absorption
  • Bloating

Like many diseases, there is no determined cause of IBS.  However, there are triggers that can cause   flare-ups.  One of the biggest triggers is food.  Those especially vulnerable to suffering from IBS symptoms should be especially cautious of what they eat.  Of course, one should have a very clean diet and avoid junk foods and processed foods as much as possible.  However, even healthy foods can lead to unexpected and inconvenient bathroom visits.  However, do not abandon hope; there are many foods IBS sufferers can enjoy without worry.

The IBS Diet

Those who suffer from IBS should avoid:

  • Insoluble Fiber—this is found foods containing grains such as wheat, barley and rye.  Insoluble fiber is needed to build bulk in the stool and therefore used to help undigested food move quickly out of the body.  Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber does not attract moisture to the colon, which is needed to prevent constipation.
  • Avoid gluten whenever possible.  Gluten is a type of protein that is found in grains, wheat, bread, pasta, cakes, cookies etc. It is gluten, which gives these foods their shape and holds them together.  A great number of IBS sufferers are also gluten intolerant, meaning they cannot properly digest this protein.  Gluten will make matters worse for IBS sufferers because it will actually cause damage to the colon.  In recent years gluten free products have become more available as public awareness of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and IBS become prevalent.  Gluten free products are a bit pricey, but are worth it if one can eat foods once thought inflammatory.
  • Be wary of certain sugars such as Sorbitol and Fructose.  Sorbitol is a primary ingredient in candies and gum as well as many processed foods.  Fructose, on the other hand is what gives fruit their sweetness.  Take care not to consume too much of these sugars because they can lead to abdominal cramping and/or diarrhea.
  • Avoid milk as much as possible.  Milk contains lactose, a type of protein which is not easily broken down by IBS sufferers. The bigger the fat content, the greater the problems.  Next time instead of reaching for that gallon of milk, try milk alternatives such as almond milk, soy milk, or coconut milk.  Seek out non-GMO products whenever possible.
  • Fried foods—the digestive system of IBS sufferers cannot handle  the  super high fat
  • Caffeine–stimulates the intestines and can cause diarrhea
  • Chocolate
  • Candy
  • Anything with high fructose corn syrup
  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Nuts—Nuts can cause problems for IBS sufferers; however, milk made from nuts is safe for consumption.
  • Cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and Broccoli
  • Lentils
  • Raisins
  • Onions

Keep a food journal

One effective IBS treatment is to take a small spiral notepad to document each snack and meal. This may seem like a lot of work, but it will be worth the effort.  Document any food eaten and their effect after consumption.  Different foods effect different people in different ways.  It may be best to conduct this experiment for a period of about three months, but no less than three weeks.  Through paying close attention, one can make a very accurate determination of which foods cause discomfort and which do not.  Although, there is a list of foods that negatively affect IBS sufferers in general, not every IBS sufferer will necessarily respond to a food in the same way.

  • In addition, when developing a friendly diet for IBS, it is important   to eat five to six small meals instead of three large meals a day.  It is easier on the digestive system.
  • Slow down and enjoy your food.   Virtually inhaling a meal will result in incomplete digestion therefore making the stomach and rest of the digestive system work that much harder.  Ultimately, this will result in an unhappy colon.

Possible causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

There are no definite answers as to the cause of IBS.  Nonetheless, there are things one can do to treat or even prevent IBS symptoms.

  • Gut flora Imbalance   Besides not eating inflammatory foods, having good gut flora is perhaps the most important ally a person with IBS can have. Flora is bacteria, which populates the intestines.  Everyone should have a balance of both good and bad bacteria in the colon.  When the bad bacteria outnumber the good it can cause and even make colon problems like IBS worse.  Balanced gut flora is also important for proper digestion and proper elimination.  One great way of restoring healthy gut flora is by taking quality probiotics.  Health food stores and some supermarkets will have this flora-restoring product.
  • GI infection. Sometimes getting food poisoning or drinking unsafe water may severely interfere with good gut flora and cause a host of gastrointestinal problems.
  • Food sensitivities/intolerances   many people with IBS also face   food allergy challenges.  Note the list above of the most common food allergies for an idea of the type of foods to avoid.   The funny thing is that individual food allergies can sometimes be hard to identify. Also food allergies may change over time. For example, a food that causes mild or severe problems today may cause little or no problem in a few years.  Effectively eliminate problem foods by keeping a food diary.  Another consideration is   getting an allergy antibody test.  Once the problematic foods are identified and eliminated from one’s diet, IBS flare ups should calm down significantly, or even disappear.
  • Stress and anxiety Stress and anxiety have a major impact on the body, particularly the digestive system.  Stress and anxiety trigger the autonomic   and the parasympathetic nervous systems.  While the autonomic nervous system controls the fight or flight response, the parasympathetic nervous system controls the digestive responses in the body.  In short, stress and anxiety directly influences how the body digests food.  In people with IBS, the stress response decreases digestion and can result in diarrhea.

Symptoms in Women

According to The United States Department of Health and Human Services, one in five Americans have IBS and of those, 75% of these sufferers are women.

It is not entirely clear as to the reason; however, the sudden shift in hormones, particularly the fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone hormones before the menstrual cycle begins.  It is possible that this ratio of imbalance between the hormones can cause sluggish bowels, cramping and abdominal distention.

What IBS medications are used to manage/treat symptoms of IBS?

IBS medication is basically used to treat the two main symptoms of diarrhea and constipation. Here is a list of medications used to treat these IBS symptoms.

Diarrhea medicines

  • Bile acid binding agents, including cholestyramine (such as Prevalite).
  • Antidiarrheals, including atropine and diphenoxylate (such as Lomotil) and loperamide (such as Imodium).
  • Rifaximin (Xifaxan) which has been shown to help people who have diarrhea and bloating as their worst symptoms.

Constipation medicines

These medicines are used to treat severe constipation.  Most of these medicines are available without a prescription and are okay to take once in a while. Check with your doctor before using any of these medicines as they may not be suitable for everyday use.   Medicines for constipation include:

  • Stimulant laxatives (such as Senokot)
  • Osmotic laxatives (such as Milk of Magnesia and nonabsorbable sugars such as lactulose.
  • Polyethylene glycol (such as MiraLax).
  • Linaclotide (Linzess)

These medicines may be prescribed for abdominal pain and cramping:

  • Anticholinergics (antispasmodics) such as dicyclomine(Bentyl).
  • There are some antidepressants, including desipramine such as Norpramin that when taken in low doses can help with the pain caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Sometimes IBS sufferers can experience depression.  The following medications can be prescribed for anxiety resulting from IBS:

  • Ant anxiety  medication such as Valium
  • Antidepressants such as Prozac

These are probably going to be a short-term solution for anxiety caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is tricky because the body is so sensitive to many foods as well as environmental and emotional situations.  It may seem that just about any outward or inward distress can trigger symptoms.   In spite of the difficulties, this condition can be managed and overcome.  However, it takes determination and patience before an IBS sufferer can begin to live a normal symptom free life.

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