Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a problem I often see in clinic and it is problematic on many different levels. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, you may well have been suffering with it for years and, while a diagnosis can – at first– offer comfort in finally having a recognised problem, the satisfaction is short lived because often that’s where all support ends, and you’re left no further forward in actually fixing what the problem is.
The difficulty begins because IBS is essentially meaningless; it’s a catch-all term used to encompass a huge variety of digestive issues. In my experience, it’s likely to be one of the following five conditions:
1 SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
Around 60% of people with IBS will have SIBO. Though you might have heard about good (and bad) bacteria in the gut, really what experts are talking about is the balance of bacteria in the large intestine: the colon. The small intestine shouldn’t have any bacteria, and every day the body should perform a flush to sweep bacteria from the small intestine into the large intestine. This flush is called the ‘migrating motor complex’. For a huge variety of reasons (historic food poisoning being the most common, but also low levels of stomach acid or adhesions play a role, among others) the bacteria are not always swept away. The trouble is that these bacteria can ferment the food in your small intestine, causing gas, belching, bloating, pain and a variety of other symptoms, including constipation and/or loose stools, and even anxiety.
2 Lactose intolerance
This is when your body is not able to tolerate lactose, a type of sugar found naturally in milk and other dairy products. Essentially, bacteria in your intestine feed on these milk sugars, leading to a host of IBS symptoms, like bloating and gas, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea.
3 Fructose malabsorption
The symptoms are very similar to lactose intolerance. Fructose (which is found in fruit, honey and many processed foods) is a sugar, which, like lactose, is digested in the small intestine. Some people cannot absorb fructose, and what is not absorbed is fermented by intestinal bacteria, causing bloating, cramping, gas and distension of the stomach. You might also experience brain fog and headaches.
This is an imbalance in the levels of beneficial (good) and pathogenic (bad) bacteria in the large intestine or colon. This is now common due to overuse of antibiotics and alcohol, an increase in high sugar diets, and stress. Symptoms can vary from a sluggish bowel or diarrhoea, pain, bloating and flatulence, to chronic bad breath, joint pain, fatigue and food sensitivities. Dysbiosis is also implicated in a variety of health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
5 Yeast overgrowth
Where the gut environment becomes out of balance (due to dysbiosis), yeast can thrive. Diets high in sugar feed the yeast – although if you think you might have a yeast overgrowth, it’s worth noting that long-term yeast problems can mean that the yeast cells are pathogenic or disease causing, and that the yeast has switched its metabolism to also be able to digest protein and fat. Symptoms of yeast overgrowth include recurring thrush, gas or bloating, fatigue, bad breath, cravings for sweet foods, joint pain and brain fog.
Testing such as a stool test or breath test might be useful in getting to the root of your digestive problems.
Some people struggle with digestive problems for years. If you’re serious about getting to the bottom of the problem (no pun intended) and ready to make fixing your gut health a priority, I would love to work with you.
What can I do about my IBS now?
There are some simple tricks you can put into practice today that might make enough of a difference to help you get your life back on track.
10 ways to improve your digestion
The following suggestions are very basic but surprisingly effective at improving symptoms of digestive distress.
- Try a cup of hot water or ginger tea before meals to stimulate digestion.
- Apple cider vinegar (with the ‘mother’) also works – take 1tsp before a meal.
- Think about your food before eating it – the thought and smell kickstarts the digestive process.
- Make sure you’re chewing properly. If you had to spit out the mouthful, no one should be able to tell what you’ve been eating.
- Try a few cubes of pineapple or papaya before a meal. These contain enzymes that can boost your digestion. You might also consider taking a natural digestive enzyme supplement from a health food store to support your body’s natural digestion process.
- Take a 15-minute walk after eating if you can. This lowers blood sugar levels and improves digestion.
- Eat at your desk at work. Getting up and out is important for so many reasons. In this case, checking emails while you are also eating may have you gulp down your food or not chewing properly. Neither are good for your digestive health.
- Try to eat on the go or when you’re stressed out. You won’t digest your food properly or absorb the nutrients. This is the quickest way to get heartburn.
- Don’t eat fruit after a meal. Fruit likes a quick passage through the digestive system. It can get stuck behind other foods that are digested more slowly and then ferment, causing gas.
- Don’t drink too much water or other fluids with your meal as this dilutes the stomach acid needed to digest your food properly.