Irritable Bowel Syndrome

I was asked by a guest last week about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Class was about to start so I told her to email me and I would send her some useful information. She never emailed me! I hope she reads the blog because there are definitely things to do to lessen the painful and irritating symptoms of IBS.

IBS involves abdominal pain, bloating and abnormal bowel movements. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, constipation (often alternating), abdominal pain (often relieved after defecation), bloating, flatulence, mucus in the stool and rectal pain. This is a common syndrome that I actually get quite a few questions from guests about.

With IBS, life stressors can trigger or worsen symptoms. Often, those who suffer from IBS usually live hectic, busy lifestyles without much room for relaxation. However, carving out some time for relaxation and stress reduction can be very beneficial. Maybe yoga, more sleep or some other form of down time?

Also, excessive use of laxatives or other medications could worsen IBS symptoms. Antibiotics actually kill the healthy bacteria in the gut and would definitely be a problem with IBS. A few other things to reduce or, better yet, eliminate would be all caffeine, alcohol and added sugars (and simple carbohydrates). Fructose (including high fructose corn syrup!) and agave nectar have been identified as the sweeteners most likely to aggravate symptoms. Avoid juices, white flour, refined grains, and sweetened foods. Also decrease total dietary fat as it places increased strain on digestion.
A high fiber diet is very important when suffering from IBS. Focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. Make sure to drink PLENTY of water (close to 2-3 quarts per day) to help with the fiber load as well as lessen IBS symptoms. This would actually be one of the few times I would recommend trying a fiber supplement.
Those individuals that have a family history of allergies may want to try to eliminate those foods. It may be advantageous to eliminate hyperallergenic foods anyway such as eggs, nuts, soy, dairy, shellfish and wheat. I would start with dairy, those with IBS are usually lactose intolerant as a side effect and dairy would only add to the symptoms.
So in conclusion:
• Get more relaxation or rest if possible.
• Eat less fat (oils, high fat meat or dairy, nuts, avocados, etc) and eliminate caffeine, alcohol and added sugars.
• Try to eliminate dairy and see if you notice a difference. You may also want to try to go without soy, eggs, nuts, fish and possibly wheat.
• Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of fiber, possibly with a supplement.

In the end, a lot of this is trial and error and trying to determine your triggers. It will vary from person to person.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD,CD