Flat tummy in the morning, bloated in the evening; abdominal pain in between – living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn’t fun. You might switch between diarrhea and constipation and live in fear of your digestive system conjuring up a foul smell. In fact, it can be downright embarrassing and even diminish your desire to be social if it isn’t managed well.
I’ve suffered with medically diagnosed IBS for years now, so I know firsthand. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for IBS, but it can be managed. Over the years I’ve worked with industry professionals and have learnt a number of management techniques for IBS.
Unfortunately, it’s a topic that Australian’s are apprehensive to talk about, yet 1 in 5 Australians struggles with IBS and it’s twice as common for women as it is men. So today I’m continuing the conversation about IBS to show others that a) you’re not alone and b) there are effective management techniques if you suffer with this medically diagnosed condition and its difficult symptoms.
The causes of IBS and my management experience with each
There are a range of triggers for IBS so it’s important to learn what makes your IBS worse to help you best manage symptoms on a day-to-day basis.
High FODMAP foods
The IBS symptoms are generally triggered by food or lifestyle choices. Whilst poor diet can exacerbate symptoms, sometimes even nutritious foods can trigger the symptoms if they are high in FODMAPs. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are different types of carbohydrates that are either poorly absorbed or digested.
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When they are poorly absorbed, increased water may be drawn into the gut, resulting in diarrhoea for some people. For others, the carbohydrates travel to the large intestine where bacteria ferment them, which then produces gas. This gas causes other symptoms of IBS like bloating, constipation, flatulence, pain and nausea.
Managing with a Low FODMAP diet
I undertook the FODMAP challenge and worked in private consults with IBS specialist dietitian Chloe McLeod to work out which FODMAPs triggered my IBS by eliminating and then reintroducing at various portion sizes. It took a lot of trial and error, but I discovered that for me, onions, garlic, dried fruit and dates were big triggers. I can only tolerate a very small amount of lactose (found in dairy). You can find lots of healthy low FODMAP recipes on my healthy recipes page (will note low FODMAP in the title).
Triggers other than FODMAPs for my IBS symptoms included fatty foods, really spicy foods and more than a couple of coffees.
Gut bacteria balance
Disturbance to the bacteria balance in the gut (known as dysbiosis) can also exacerbate or cause symptoms of IBS. Poor nutrition, sickness, antibiotics, and stress impact bacteria balance in the gut.
Ensuring balanced gut bacteria
Probiotics are a great way to maintain the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract and a diet high in fibre can help promote bowel function.
I take probiotics regularly (particularly the strain Bifidobacterium lactis which is clinically tested to help manage constipation and is low in FODMAPs) as some of the food based probiotics don’t sit well with my stomach. For those who can tolerate them, probiotics can be found in foods such as yoghurt, miso, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut and tempeh.
When my IBS symptoms flare up I will include a fibre supplement. I aim to get my main source of fibre through fruit, vegetables and wholegrains and then supplement as needed.
Check your supplement is low FODMAP certified
The new Nestlé Health Science ProNourish® range offers these products to help support digestive health. The range includes ProNourish® Natural Balance Fibre, ProNourish® Regularity & Balance Probiotic and ProNourish® Digestive Balance Drink. What makes these a stand out to other products on the market is they are Monash University Low FODMAP Certified. The range is available in Chemist Warehouse now! I like to include the ProNourish® Digestive Balance Drink as part of a smoothie with a handful of blueberries and cold water.
Stress and anxiety are major triggers of IBS, so managing your stress levels will reduce your symptoms. Try to avoid dealing with your stress via extra sugar, coffee or alcohol as all of these can further exacerbate your symptoms.
Managing stress to reduce IBS
In fact, managing my stress is one of the things that helps me best manage my IBS symptoms. Exercise, prayer, meditation, massage and general self-care like reducing the expectations I have of myself and getting enough sleep also really help relieve my stress levels. Rest for your body and mind are ESSENTIAL! It seems simple, but honestly, it was one of the most effective management techniques for me.
If you know someone that suffers from medically diagnosed IBS, I hope this has given you some insight to the condition. If you suffer with it yourself, I hope it has given you some ideas for how you can best manage it. It takes time to work it all out and it is different for each person, but with the help of a GP and Accredited Practising Dietitian you will find some relief! Hang in there and know you’re not alone! I’m always here if you have questions about my IBS journey or want to share your journey (the good, bad and ugly) with me!
This post is proudly sponsored by Nestlé Health Science. All opinions are my own.
The range is available in Chemist Warehouse now.
ProNourish® Regularity & Balance Probiotic and ProNourish® Natural Balance Fibre: Always read the label, use only as directed, if symptoms persist see your healthcare professional. Monash University receives a license fee for use of the Monash University Low FODMAP Certified trademarks. Monash University has assessed this product as being low in FODMAPs but has not assessed its suitability as a therapeutic good.
ProNourish® Digestive Balance Drink is a formulated supplementary food. Formulated to supplement a normal diet to address situations where intakes of energy and nutrients may not be adequate to meet an individual’s requirements. Consume as part of a healthy varied diet. Monash University Low FODMAP Certified™ food. One serve of this product is low in FODMAPs.