For people who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the worry usually comes in business meetings, when they’re needing to pass wind but can’t, or are sitting on the train and have to get off a stop or two early to find a bathroom, or feeling embarrassed at social events because they’re so bloated they look pregnant (even when they’re not). If you haven’t ever experienced this, it may seem trivial, if you have; you know that IBS is certainly something to worry about! People with IBS routinely experience pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and nausea (or a mix of these). Lethargy, fatigue and tiredness are other common side effects. Understandably, this has a significant impact on ability to focus at work, can increase anxiety and stress levels, and reduce quality of life in general. Dietitian, Chloe McLeod, shares why you should worry about irritable bowel syndrome.
If all that wasn’t enough, poor gut health has been linked with everything from poor skin to depression, obesity and autoimmune conditions. Whilst more research directly linking poorly managed IBS to these is required, doing your best to manage your gut health and reduce frequency and severity of symptoms makes sense, not just from a lifestyle perspective, but from a medical perspective as well.
What are FODMAPs?
Research shows that following a diet that is low in FODMAPs helps relieve symptoms of IBS. FODMAPs, stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. When these carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the small intestine increased water can be drawn into the gut. This can result in diarrhoea in some people, whilst for others, the carbohydrates travel to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria, producing gas. This gas can lead to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including bloating, constipation, flatulence, pain and nausea.
To complicate it further, some low FODMAP foods can still contribute to IBS. Fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, too much fibre, too little fibre, medications and even stress, may also influence your symptoms. Symptoms of IBS aren’t pleasant! If you suffer from the aforementioned symptoms, you may suffer from IBS.
Eliminating high FODMAP foods can help control your IBS, these foods include apples, pears, mushrooms, onion, garlic, bread and milk.
How to manage?
Following a low FODMAP diet is supported by research as the best way of managing IBS, however it is not designed to be stuck to on a long-term basis. The key purpose of removing high FODMAP foods, and including only low FODMAP foods is to determine if symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome improve. If so, then a systematic approach of food challenges is encouraged to determine exactly which FODMAPs are an issue for you. Cutting out whole food groups or types of food long term is unnecessary in most cases; most people with IBS are able to reintroduce high FODMAP foods and maintain good symptom control, once triggers are determined. This means more control over symptoms, and it’s a lot easier to make informed choices.
Why not just avoid any possible triggers? Many high FODMAP foods are also high in prebiotics, compounds that provide food for the healthy bacteria that are found in your gut. In particular, this includes onion, garlic, legumes, wheat, watermelon and asparagus. Research indicates that long-term avoidance of these may affect the health of your gut microbiome.
If the above sounds a little too familiar, determining your triggers with support from a dietitian is the best way forward. Check out The FODMAP Challenge for recipes, meal plans and lots of support to help you figure out your triggers.