Grace is an active young lady who is excited for the upcoming season of road trips, biking and lazy Saturdays spent on patios. She and her partner make an effort to eat a healthy, balanced diet to help fuel them through their busy lifestyle. From the outside, she appears to be living a holistic lifestyle; however, on the inside, she has an embarrassing secret: she finds after most of her meals she’s running to the bathroom, and she constantly feels gassy and bloated. Her friends think she might have celiac disease, and that she should try a gluten free diet. Grace however, feels wary to change her entire diet when she isn’t sure what’s causing her tummy troubles. She decides instead to visit a health professional to find some answers. Grace discovers she has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and is relived that she can finally take control of her body.
It’s no surprise that what we put into our bellies will affect what goes on in there. IBS is very different from celiac disease, which is a true gluten allergy and can be diagnosed through a blood test. Grace made the smart choice to get a proper diagnosis so that she can start managing her symptoms. What the heck is IBS anyway? Currently, there’s no known cause of IBS, however we know it’s a complex condition involving both environmental and genetic factors. IBS affects over 15% of adults in North America, and is often under diagnosed as “normal tummy troubles.” For those with IBS, they’ll tell you that there is nothing normal about feeling like your food is going right through and still somehow being as bloated as a balloon. Luckily, IBS can be managed through controlling diet, lifestyle and stress. Here are three simple steps:
Did you know that bacteria outnumber cells in your body 10:1? Your gut flora consists of hundreds of different microorganisms. The majority of these bacteria are healthy and help with weight management, improved immune function and reduced risk of many diseases. Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain these friendly bacteria, and are supposed to help colonize our guts with health-boosting microorganisms. In IBS, many large studies have shown that a specific probiotic, bifidobacterium infantis, can drastically improve gas and bloating related to IBS. Eating foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha can provide a wide array of probiotics. Supplements are also available to target a specific probiotic strain.
Often forgotten about, stress can have a major impact on our gut function – this is especially important in IBS as it directly involves the brain-gut connection. Stress can arise from a perceived or actual event, and we’re often not even consciously feeling stressed. This disturbs the balance between mind, brain, and body. Think about a time you were nervous for a race or exam and your stomach felt like it was on a roller coaster ride. IBS can make your tummy especially sensitive to stressors. This creates a negative cycle of increased stress, symptoms and additional stress from the embarrassment and uncomfortable nature of belly upset. The solution? Set in place a relaxation plan, even enter it in your work planner, to make sure to fit in your “me” time!
FODMAPS are fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols – have I lost you yet? What this means in human terms is short-chain carbohydrates, which some people find hard to digest. This poor digestion can lead to the yucky symptom of IBS like gas, bloating and diarrhea. Limiting FODMAPs may be the single most effective treatment for IBS, and has been shown to provide relief in 75% those with IBS. Unfortunately, this is also the most complicated part of the plan to implement. It usually involves eliminating all FODMAP foods for a short period of time and then slowly re-introducing them to help determine which are “trigger” foods for each individual. To avoid nutritional deficiencies during this time, it can be best to begin these steps with the help of nutrition professional.
Now that Grace has an accurate diagnosis, she can manage her IBS symptoms through some simple lifestyle changes. Grace would benefit from choosing a probiotics yogurt or supplement, actively seeking relaxation techniques for her stress, and trying a FODMAP elimination diet. So grab that kombucha and take ten minutes to meditate – your belly will thank you for it!