Updated: August 6, 2018
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS is a type of gastrointestinal disorder that affects the large intestine. Signs and symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, and food intolerance. IBS is a chronic condition that can be controlled by managing diet, lifestyle and stress. Severe symptoms can be treated with medication and counseling.
The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unknown and may be due to multiple factors. The symptoms are different for every person who suffers from it and so is the treatment. Some patients feel better trying natural remedies instead of or in addition to conventional drugs.
Chronic constipation or diarrhea can cause hemorrhoids. A too strict diet that limits nutrients could cause problems related to lack of proper nutrition. The biggest complication of IBS may be on the quality of life. In addition, IBS is associated with poor quality of life and mood disorders such as depression or anxiety, which also can make IBS worse and may be troublesome for patients.
There is no known cure for IBS, but there are many treatment options to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Simple changes in your diet and lifestyle often provide relief from IBS. However, your body will need time to respond to these changes. These include:
Regular exercise is really helpful to relieve stress, depression, and anxiety in many people dealing with IBS. Anything that relieves stress can help with bowel discomfort by stimulating regular intestinal contractions. Make sure to start slow and work your way up if you are not used to exercising. Usually exercising for 30 minutes a day, five days a week is recommended. Yoga or meditation are different options for stress reduction.
Incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine can be beneficial to people living with IBS. The below three relaxation techniques have been shown to reduce symptoms of IBS.
It is recommended using caution if you use OTC anti-diarrheal medicines, such as Kaopectate or Imodium, or laxatives, such as polyethylene glycol or milk of magnesia. Some medicines need to be taken 20 to 30 minutes before you eat to help prevent symptoms. Follow the directions on the package to avoid problems.
Certain foods can make gastrointestinal (GI) pain worse. Identify the foods that exacerbate your symptoms, and be sure to avoid them. There are also some foods that can help reduce the symptoms of IBS. The foods containing probiotics, or bacteria is helpful to your digestive system, that helps relieve some symptoms of IBS, such as bloating and gas. Managing your stress and watching your diet are two of the best ways to relieve IBS symptoms from home. A healthy diet generally consists of eating a wide variety of nutritious foods in moderation.
Fiber in the food can be soluble or insoluble. Fiber adds healthy bulk to the diet. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits contain fiber. Although fiber tolerance is different for different people, insoluble fiber may cause or worsen diarrhea in some people with IBS. Always choose soluble fiber instead of insoluable. Insoluble fiber may relieve constipation, but it can also make you feel bloated.
Foods with soluble fiber include:
A fiber supplement, such as Metamucil, is recommended in some cases rather than dietary fiber. Food that contains psyllium, a type of fiber may help more with the symptoms of IBS than food that contains bran.
Certain grains which contain gluten can cause other problems such as rye, wheat, and barley. Gluten is a type of protein some people are allergic to. This condition is known as celiac disease which can cause symptoms like those of diarrhea-predominant IBS.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that occurs as a reaction to the ingestion of gluten in some individuals. It can cause changes in the intestinal cells resulting in poor absorption of nutrients. Some people have gluten intolerance without the immune response or changes in the intestinal cells. This is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. People with this condition may experience the same side effects and gastrointestinal symptoms of gluten ingestion as those with celiac disease. Many people with IBS are also gluten intolerant. Gluten sensitivity may be associated with the development of IBS symptoms for some people, and gluten-free diets may improve these symptoms. However, how gluten affects IBS will be based on the individual response. You can always substitute your favorite pizza, pasta, cakes, or cookies gluten-free options.
Dairy can be problematic for two reasons. First, it contains fat, which can increase diarrhea. In that case you may need to switch to low-fat or nonfat dairy to lessen symptoms. And second, many people with IBS are lactose intolerant. If you are lactose intolerant and have IBS, you might want to consider dairy alternatives like rice milk and soy cheese. You can also try eating yogurt instead of milk for your dairy requirements or consider using an enzyme product to help you process lactose.
As dairy products are recommended to avoid entirely, you need to ensure that you consume enough protein and calcium from other sources. You may also need a calcium supplement.
The high fat content of fried food may be hard on the digestive system for people with IBS. Frying food can actually change the chemical makeup of the food, making it more difficult to digest. Consider grilling or baking your favorite foods for a healthier option.
Beans are generally a great source of protein and fiber, but they can cause IBS symptoms. Beans can increase bulk in stool to help constipation, but they also increase gas, bloating, and cramps. Therefore you will have to avoid beans if you have IBS.
All caffeinated drinks, including coffee has a stimulating effect on the intestines that can cause diarrhea. Coffee, sodas, and energy drinks that contain caffeine can be triggers for people with IBS. If you need an energy boost, consider eating a small snack or going for a quick walk.
Processed foods often contain additives or preservatives that might trigger IBS flare-ups. A large number of processed foods, like chips or pre-made frozen meals, are also often fried or high in fat. Making meals yourself or buying foods that are made fresh is often a better alternative to buying processed foods.
These sweeteners are also known as sugar alcohols, polyols, artificial sweeteners, and sugar substitutes. Usually these are found in sugarless candy, gum, most diet drinks, and even mouthwash. These products contain ingredients like sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and aspartame which are hard for your body to absorb, especially when you have IBS. Make sure you read the ingredient labels of any sugar-free product you consume.
Because of their concentration of caffeine and their high sugar content, chocolate bars and chocolate candy can trigger IBS. Some people experience constipation after eating chocolate. There are some vegan options for chocolate lovers that people with IBS often find to be more tolerable.
Alcoholic beverages are a big trigger for people with IBS because of the way the body digests alcohol. As beer contains gluten, and wines and mixed drinks usually contain sugar, these can worsen the symptoms of IBS.
Alcohol can also be dehydrating, which can affect your liver function and digestion.
Limiting alcoholic beverages may help reduce symptoms related to IBS. Consider a gluten-free beer or a drink that is mixed with plain seltzer and doesn't have artificial sweeteners or added sugar.
Garlic and onions are great flavoring agents in your food, but they are also difficult for your intestines to break down, which causes gas. Painful gas and cramping can result from raw garlic and onions. Even cooked versions of these foods can be triggers.
Broccoli and cauliflower are vegetables that are difficult for people to digest. When your intestine breaks these foods down, they can act as IBS triggers causing gas, and at times, constipation, even for people without IBS.
Grating the heads of broccoli and cauliflower might make the digestive process simpler for your small intestine. But it won't eliminate the risk of painful gas and diarrhea that IBS triggers can cause.
Probiotics are live bacteria taht are found in supplements or in fermented foods like yogurt and kefir. Consumption of probiotics can relieve abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms better than placebo. However, they do alter the amount and ratio of natural gut bacteria which, could do more harm than good in some cases.
Prebiotics are nondigestable carbohydrates that feed the good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are also present in healthy foods like garlic, onions, bananas, and raw asparagus, as well.
Synbiotics, which are combination products that contain both pre- and probiotics are also helpful in reducing the symptoms of IBS.
Peppermint oil is a natural anti-spasmodic, which seems to be beneficial specifically for those who do have a lot of pain. It maybe not work for constipation or diarrhea.
Iberogast, also known as STW-5, is a trademarked liquid formula made of nine different plant extracts including peppermint. This is beneficial for patients with IBS-related pain. It seems to work particularly well for people who have pain around mealtime. Iberogast also seems to have anti-spasmodic qualities that helps reduce the symptoms of IBS.
The FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharaides, and Polyols) diet focuses on reducing or eliminating fermentable, short-chain carbohydrates. High FODMAP foods are not absorbed well by the small intestine as they increase fluid in the bowel and create more gas, resulting in pain, gas, and diarrhea.
You should restrict the following food in FODMAP diet:
Foods that you can enjoy while on a FODMAP diet include:
As the digestion process and food triggers will be different for individuals, identify the foods that make you feel the best. Some people with IBS can tolerate certain foods, while others may not. Get to know your body and limit those that you react to. It is a good idea to seek guidance from a registered dietitian if you need extra help with your diet in relation to IBS.