The Role of Diet: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

What is IBS? Irritable bowel syndrome is a type of digestive disorder that’s characterized by a group of common symptoms, including changes in bowel movements and abdominal pain.

No tests can actually confirm whether or not someone has IBS, which is where tracking symptoms is important. 

The good news is you can identify IBS symptoms and then treat them naturally through lifestyle changes and an IBS diet.

The most common IBS symptoms include: 

  • Changes in normal bowel movements, including constipation and diarrhea, it’s also possible to have both.

  • Changes in the appearance of stools, including texture and color

  • Stomach bloating

  • Gas and burping

  • Abdominal pains, aches and cramps

  • Nausea, heartburn or acid reflux

  • Easily feeling full or loss of appetite

Although these aren’t “digestive issues,” the following symptoms are also often present in people with IBS:

  • Anxiety or depression (not only does stress contribute to IBS developing, but symptoms can then worsen stress, creating a vicious cycle that’s hard to break)

  • Trouble sleeping and fatigue

  • Headaches

  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth

  • Muscle aches, especially in the lower back

  • Sexual problems, including reduced sexual desire

  • Body image issues

  • Heart palpitations

  • Frequent or urgent need to urinate

Causes of IBS Symptoms

The exact causes of IBS are different for every person, since many factors in someone’s life can affect digestion. One major factor that determines how the digestive system works is your stress levels and moods.

Common factors contributing to IBS include:

  • food sensitivities and allergies (dairy, gluten and other FODMAP foods)

  • chronic stress or even temporary high amounts of emotional or physical stress

  • having family members who also have IBS

  • traveling

  • changes in someone’s sleep routine and circadian rhythm

  • hormonal imbalances or changes (menstruation, menopause or pregnancy might bring on symptoms)

Natural Treatment for IBS

1. Avoid Common Allergens and Inflammatory Foods

Each person has different reactions to different types of foods. But foods to try cutting out of your diet as part of an “elimination diet” for relieving IBS include:

  • Conventional, pasteurized dairy

  • Gluten (wheat, barley, rye)

  • Added sugar and refined flour

  • Caffeine and alcohol

  • Common allergens, including eggs, nuts, shellfish

  • Spicy foods

  • Certain FODMAP grains, veggies and fruit (such as apples, stone fruit, avocado, onions, garlic and broccoli)

2. Reduce Stress

Higher levels of stress are linked to digestive troubles due to how stress raises inflammation and impacts hormone levels. Even stress from everyday situations, like work or family obligations, can impact digestion.

What can you do to lower stress? Exercise, meditation, spending time in nature and enjoying hobbies can all help as natural stress relievers.

3. Exercise

Regular exercise (aerobics, lifting weights, team sports or yoga) help control stress and can improve digestive health.

This doesn’t mean you should skip visiting your doctor if you think you might have IBS. Sometimes people mistake other, more serious symptoms for IBS and choose not to get a diagnoses, which can lead to underlying health problems going unnoticed.

Want to learn more?

For many people, improved eating and lifestyle habits can seem impossible to sustain, especially when progress feels non-existent. I like to say: Progress is always happening, you just have to know what to look for. That’s why I work closely with my clients to help them lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health… no matter what challenges they’re dealing with.

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If you are having persistent and recurring symptoms, you should consult your provider and this advice is not meant to replace recommendations from your provider.