Most of us suffer from stomach discomfort, flatulence, constipation or diarrhea occasionally but for those experiencing these symptoms regularly (for days or even weeks at a time, with considerable pain and discomfort) Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a likely diagnosis. This extremely common gastrointestinal disorder can make life very difficult with symptoms causing embarrassment, inconvenience and distress. For many, it has a significant impact on their emotional well being and quality of life at home and at work.
In addition to abdominal pain, bloating, and abnormal bowel movements, IBS adversely impacts brain function and has been linked to anxiety and depression.
It is estimated that between 10 and 25 percent of people in developed countries suffer from IBS. According to The Gut Foundation, of all Australians who experience IBS: one in five will have extremely debilitating symptoms; two in five will have moderate symptoms which may impact upon social activities and work; one in three will spontaneously get better; and the remainder will experience symptoms that will fluctuate and come and go through their lives.
Despite being a common condition, we still do not fully understand what causes IBS, however, it is clear that the symptoms arise as a result of the abnormal functioning in the small and/or large bowel.
Recent research shows that people with IBS have an altered gut microbiota compared to healthy individuals. These findings now point to a significant relationship between the health and function of a person’s microbiota and the role the microbiota plays in triggering and managing IBS.
Research shows that in people with IBS, the amounts of specific bacterial groups are altered and the diversity is reduced. Things like processed diets, low fibre diets, stress, infections, food sensitivities and certain medications can impact the health of the microbiome.
More research is needed but the evidence strongly supports managing IBS by focusing on gut health and the factors that influence it including dietary changes, prebiotics, probiotics, healthy lifestyle habits, and stress-reduction strategies.
An evidence-based and proven approach to dietary change for IBS is the low-FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are found in many of the foods we eat and refers to a collection of short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in foods naturally or as food additives. FODMAPs is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides (eg. Fructans and Galacto-oligosaccharides), Disaccharides (eg. Lactose), Monosaccharides (eg. Fructose) and Polyols (eg. Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Xylitol and Isomalt).
Sometimes these FODMAPs are poorly absorbed by some people. When they are are poorly absorbed in the small intestine of the digestive tract, they continue along their journey in the digestive tract, arriving at the large intestine, where they act as a food source to the bacteria that live there normally. The bacteria then digest/ferment these FODMAPs and can cause digestive upset symptoms.
Before trying this dietary approach, it is advisable to talk to your GP or qualified nutritionist to make sure this is safe for your particular case and that other conditions have been ruled out.
The low FODMAP diet is restrictive, and like all restrictive diets, needs professional guidance to ensure there is adequate nutrition and the person is not at risk of nutritional deficiencies.
This is not a forever diet. It is designed to be followed for 4 to 6 weeks and is essentially a tool intended to help heal the gastrointestinal system and identify trigger foods to help with management of the condition.
When combined with a focus on fresh foods and avoidance of processed and refined foods, supplementation of probiotics, and stress management strategies, this protocol results in improvement of symptoms for most people.
If you are suffering from digestive and bowel issues, and you are looking for someone to help you identify what’s going, send me an email or phone me now to make an appointment.
I use a combination of dietary strategies and testing to help identify the cause, empower you with knowledge and create a personalised plan to reduce and manage symptoms.