Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
38% of women between 25 and 65 have digestive problems. And they don't like to talk about it.
However there is no point suffering in silence so let's take a look at Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Did you know that IBS is the world's most common functional gastrointestinal disorder and is estimated to affect 1 in 5 people? It is more common in women than men, yet no one knows why that is or what the exact cause of IBS is.
While not life-threatening or harmful to the intestines, IBS is uncomfortable, painful, disruptive, embarrassing and frustrating for sufferers.
Also, in addition to its job processing all you eat and drink, the digestive system is home to 70% of the body's immune cells so you need your gut to be as healthy as possible.
Typical IBS symptoms include abdominal pain and cramping, abdominal bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea and/or constipation. Often sufferers experience a combination of these symptoms at different times.
One of the most stressful symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is urgency and sufferers from this variant sometimes become housebound for fear of being caught short while they are out.
Researchers believe a combination of physical and mental health problems may be at the root of IBS. (No, you're not in danger of men in white coats arriving on your doorstep, we promise!)
Brain-gut signalling problems
The intestines are controlled by signals between the brain and the nerves of the small and large intestines. Problems in the brain-gut signalling may cause symptoms like pain and discomfort arising from changes or alterations in gut action and bowel habits.
The normal movement or progress of matter through the colon might be impeded in an IBS sufferer. Slow movement might result in constipation, while fast movement could cause diarrhoea. Abdominal pain may then be experienced from sudden strong muscular contractions or spasming. It is thought that for IBS sufferers, an excessive increase in contractions of the bowel may be triggered by stress or eating. Which leads us to…
Panic attacks, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are common in people with IBS. The reasons for this link between IBS and psychological or mental health disorders are not clear but many of us, even those that don’t experience IBS know what being stressed or anxious can do to our stomachs and gut. We live in stressful, busy times and its surely no coincidence that the prevalence of IBS has increased as our lifestyles have become more demanding.
Lower pain threshold
People with IBS have a lower pain threshold than non-sufferers when it comes to the bowel stretching due to gas or stool. Researchers believe the brain may process pain signals differently in those with IBS.
This is an interesting one. Some people who have bacterial gastroenteritis develop IBS. Again researchers are puzzled why gastroenteritis leads to IBS in some people and not others, but the theory is that psychological problems and/or abnormalities of the lining of the GI tract may be the cause.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
This is an increase in the number of bacteria or a change in the type of bacteria within the small intestine. These bacteria can produce excess gas and may also cause diarrhoea and weight loss. Some researchers believe that SIBO may lead to IBS, and while some studies showed antibiotics to be effective in treating IBS, they were weak and more research is required.
Many people with IBS report that certain foods and beverages can trigger symptoms, such as foods rich in carbohydrates, spicy or fatty foods, coffee, and alcohol. However, people with food sensitivity typically do not have clinical signs of food allergy. Researchers have proposed that symptoms may result from poor absorption of sugars or bile acids, which help break down fats and get rid of wastes in the body.
So what can you do?
Now you know some of the possible causes and your doctor has ruled out any other illness, how do you tame this angry gut of yours?
Most people diagnosed with IBS can control their symptoms with diet, stress management and medicine. As stated earlier, while there is no cure, the following lifestyle management techniques may be helpful.
- Changes in eating, diet, and nutrition
- Pre- and probiotics therapies for mental health problems, relaxation techniques, meditating or finding constructive, simple ways to manage and reduce your stress levels.
Eating, diet and nutrition
Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhoea, so eating smaller meals more often, or eating smaller portions, may help with IBS symptoms. Eat slowly, chewing your food thoroughly as many of us forget this is the first part of the digestive process. Eating meals that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables, may also help.
Avoid certain foods and drinks that may cause IBS symptoms (you will know if certain foods aggravate your symptoms) such as;
- foods high in fat
- milk products
- drinks containing alcohol or caffeine
- drinks with large amounts of artificial sweeteners
- foods that may cause gas, such as beans and cabbage
People with IBS may want to limit or avoid these foods. Keeping a food diary is a good way to track which foods cause symptoms so you can avoid them or reduce them in your diet.
Dietary fibre may lessen constipation in people with IBS, but it may not help with lowering pain. While fibre helps keep stool soft so it moves smoothly through the colon, it can also cause gas and trigger symptoms in some IBS sufferers. Increasing fibre intake by 2 to 3 grams per day may help reduce the risk of increased gas and bloating.
If you suffer acute IBS symptoms like excessive bloating and cramping A.Vogel’s Gastronol may help. Taken repeatedly every 10 minutes from the onset of symptoms Gastronol works quickly to quell the cramps, reduce bloating and have you standing upright again.
Prebiotics and probiotics
Your gut is home to millions of microscopic bacteria that line your digestive tract in a mesh-like structure. In fact, up to a kilogram of your weight can be attributed solely to these bacteria. They are an integral part of the gut and have a number of key functions in processing the food you eat, generating key nutrients and supporting the immune system. Without these good bacteria, your digestive system would not function properly and your immune function would suffer. One of the groups of good gut bacteria is known as lactic acid bacteria. They keep the acidity of our gut at the right level – important in maintaining the health of the good bacteria present and the growth of new good bacteria.
Modern lifestyles, stress, antibiotics, hormone medications, illness or a diet high in sugar can cause the natural balance of gut flora to be disturbed (dysbiosis) causing an increase in bad gut flora, especially candida albicans. This is a common cause of IBS symptoms. This is where a prebiotic like A.Vogel’s Molkosan can help. It is a mild digestive tonic rich in L+ lactic acid which is essential in preparing the digestive system for processing the food we eat. An in-home study in the Netherlands involving 430 women showed Molkosan to be extremely helpful in reducing typical IBS symptoms. Molkosan prevents bad flora or bacteria from being able to attach to the lining of the gut, while also correcting the acidity of the gut.
If the symptoms still persist or have not reduced after a course (one bottle) or two of Molkosan, then you can try adding probiotics to the mix. Some studies have found that probiotics, specifically Bifidobacteria and certain probiotic combinations, improve symptoms of IBS when taken in large enough amounts. But the trick is to get the conditions of your gut right first with Molkosan because if the bad gut flora are not eliminated, any probiotics you take will simply be overrun by the bad flora and you will land right back where you started. Probiotics can be found in dietary supplements, such as capsules, tablets, and powders, and in some foods, such as yogurt. We suggest you visit your health care provider to get information about the right kind and right amount of probiotics to take to improve IBS symptoms.