Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Gastro-intestinal discomfort can be caused by a number of different lifestyle factors – including both food and emotional or psychological triggers. If you experience any gastro-intestinal discomfort, it is important to pay close attention to both food and lifestyle factors that may be associated with the change in bowel habit, pain or discomfort, and as always if you are concerned – seek medical advice.

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, is a common complaint in today’s society, although scientists still don’t understand entirely its exact cause. What they do know, is that there appear to be certain food triggers.

Symptoms of IBS
Feeling bloated or full in your stomach
• having diarrhoea – your poo may become loose and watery and you may need to go urgently
• being constipated – your poo may become small and hard and going to the toilet may be difficult or uncomfortable

Many people will alternate between bouts of constipation and diarrhoea
• passing mucus with your poo
• feeling like you haven’t completely emptied your bowels

IBS can also be triggered by ‘behavioural’ factors, and therefore the first line of treatment for IBS is focused on eliminating any of these potential causes. If you think you may suffer from IBS, have a read through the following seven points and see how many of them you can tick off.

1. eat regular meals (i.e. every 4-5 hours)
2. sit down to eat – helps with number 3
3. eat slowly and chew food well
4. watch your portion sizes – eating too much distends your stomach and upsets digestion
5. eat a variety of lean, low fat and high fibre foods
6. drinks plenty of fluids – but not with meals (the stomach distension thing again)
7. keep active and manage stress (these go hand in hand)

Should your symptoms persist after trying this advice, it may be appropriate to follow a low FODMAP diet for a period of time. Someone with IBS may not be able to absorb or digest certain types of carbohydrates known as FODMAPS. An elimination diet followed by careful reintroduction of foods containing FODMAPS can help to both a) give your gut a rest from irritation potentially caused by one of more of these foods, and b) help you to identify the culprit food/s. The burden of both following a low FODMAP diet and keeping a food and symptom diary is high. This diet is NOT designed to be a long term thing, and most people find that after completion of the reintroduction phase of the diet, they are able to eat just as they did before without any issues, or at the very least, they know which foods do not ‘agree’ with them.

A short list of foods containing FODMAPS: wheat, rye, onions, yoghurt, milk, soft cheese, apples, pears, honey, stone fruit, mushrooms, cauliflower, artificial sweeteners.

For a more extensive list and more information on IBS and its treatment – see http://www.monash.edu/ and search IBS, or consult a dietitian.

Happy eating!

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