IBS – Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment
IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a long-term disorder of the intestines that leads to belly pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
The causes of this disorder are yet unknown. However, it is believed to be related to inflammation of the digestive tract lining, changes in the sensitivity of nerves of the intestines due to genetic problems, gastrointestinal tract infections, family history of colon cancer, etc.
The symptoms of IBS are constipation, diarrhea, excess gas, abdominal pain, bloating, GI tract infection, undue weight loss, mucus in stools, etc. Some people experience all of these while others experience only a few of these symptoms. IBS does not lead to serious diseases, but the symptoms are quite painful.
The muscles in our intestines contract and relax in waves. This is called peristalsis, and it is responsible for pushing out the waste in the form of feces. For people suffering from IBS, the normal rhythmic waves are disrupted due to ineffective communication between the brain and the digestive tract. Sometimes, the bowel contracts too much, leading to the swift movement of food through the intestines, which results in diarrhea. At other times, the intestinal muscles contract very slowly or without relaxing, thereby causing constipation.
IBS can be treated with anti-diarrheal, anticholinergic, antispasmodic, and antibiotic medicines. Changing the diet and lifestyle also aid in the treatment of IBS.
IBS Sample Diet Plan
- Early Morning: 1 glass warm water or Probiotic drink or Aloe vera juice
- Breakfast: Oats with fat-free or low-fat milk or Scrambled egg with 1 slice of white bread
- Lunch: Chicken stew with carrots, spinach, and green beans or Cucumber soup
- Post- Lunch: 1 small cup low-fat or fat-free yogurt
- Evening Snack: 1 glass apple juice (strained) with fennel seeds
- Dinner: Steamed salmon or Rice noodles or pasta or Mashed sweet potato with poached chicken breast
This diet plan includes the recommended foods for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. If you are lactose intolerant, you can opt for soy milk instead of fat-free or low-fat milk. If you are gluten sensitive, buy products that are marked gluten-free. Drinking a probiotic drink or aloe vera juice in the morning will help soothe your stomach. Fennel seeds also have a cooling effect. Make sure you drink enough water and fruit juice (strained).
Foods To Eat
A high fiber diet is generally considered suitable for almost everyone suffering from IBS. However, this is not true in all cases. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble.
During the digestive process, soluble fiber dissolves in water, turns into a gel and slows digestion. Soluble fiber is found in fruits like avocados, oranges, strawberries, raspberries, grapefruit, tangerines, and pears. It is also found in breakfast cereals containing psyllium, oat bran, oatmeal, barley, white potatoes, and asparagus.
In spite of being healthy, insoluble fiber is generally hard on the intestines in people suffering from IBS. Insoluble fiber moves quickly through the colon, thus aggravating diarrhea-predominant IBS.
People suffering from IBS should resort to foods with soluble fiber. Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are a good source of soluble fiber, but they are also gas-producing. Therefore, these should be taken in appropriate quantities so that they do not aggravate the symptoms.
Plant-based foods, such as grains and vegetables, contain both soluble and insoluble fibers. Those suffering from IBS can increase soluble fiber in particular.
Though IBS diet largely includes foods with soluble fiber, it is recommended to eat a variety of foods in moderation without eating too much of one particular food or too much food at one time.
While high intake of soluble fiber is recommended for diarrhea-predominant IBS, those suffering from constipation-predominant IBS are required to be more aggressive in their dietary pattern. They are required to take three to six or more daily portions of soluble fiber in their meals and snacks. The portions should be moderated and spread throughout the day to avoid excess gas and discomfort.
Fruits like apples, peaches, plums, papayas, avocados, nectarines, apricots, mangoes, and pears that are high in fructose or sorbitol and maybe trigger foods for some people. They are excellent sources of soluble fiber and should be included in the diet.
Low FODMAP Foods
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo Di Monosaccharides And Polyols. These short-chain carbs are easily fermented and cause more fluid to enter the large intestine. This results in bloating, gas formation, and diarrhea. The foods that are high in this type of carbohydrate chain are honey, legumes, cherries, soybeans, beans, full-fat dairy, wheat, onions, and garlic. These foods should be avoided to prevent stomach or GI tract inflammation and irritation.
Water is very important for normal, healthy digestion. It is essential to drink two to three liters of water each day.
You can eat white rice, oats, barley, and quinoa. However, if you feel any discomfort, stop consuming any of the above immediately.
You can have eggs, fish, chicken breast, lean cuts of turkey and beef, soy, mushroom, and lentils.
Vegetable and Fruit Juices
Drink a good amount of vegetable or fresh fruit juice every day. Make sure you strain the juice before drinking it to avoid consuming the seed or peel, which may aggravate the symptoms of IBS.
You can have flour tortillas, white bread, pasta, and noodles.
Those suffering from IBS may experience vitamin or mineral deficiency. Your doctor may prescribe calcium, vitamin D, or vitamin B12 supplements. Do consult your doctor first before taking these supplements.
Foods To Avoid
There are certain foods that act as trigger foods, which aggravate or worsen the IBS symptoms. The most common among these foods are fatty foods like fried foods, heavy restaurant meals, fatty meat, and vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, onions, garlic, legumes, whole grains, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Following are some of the common trigger foods which should be restricted in the diet if not completely avoided.
Whole Milk and Dairy
Whole milk and other dairy products are often responsible for interfering with the normal digestive process of many people suffering from IBS. Avoid full-fat milk or yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, ice-creams, creamy soups, sauces, puddings, etc.
Foods High In Insoluble Fiber
Insoluble fiber does not work well for IBS patients, particularly those with diarrhea-predominant IBS. Foods that have a high content of insoluble fiber, such as whole-wheat pasta, wheat germ, popcorn, millets, quinoa, whole grain bread, whole nuts, and seeds, may trigger IBS symptoms.
Wheat and wheat flour contains a protein called gluten that some individuals find difficult to digest. Common trigger foods include white and whole wheat bread, crackers, cereals, pasta, and baked foods.
Those suffering from IBS should stick to cooked vegetables as raw vegetables are bad for their bowels. Besides, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can be troublesome even if they are cooked and then eaten.
Fatty Foods and Red Meat
Fatty or fried foods like French fries, fried chicken, fried fish, and red meat are equally bad for IBS patients. Therefore, it is better to replace the hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs or sausages with poultry, fish, and other lean meats for protein.
Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils are difficult to digest for people with IBS as they often cause gastrointestinal effects, bloating, cramping and diarrhea.
Onion and Garlic
Onion and garlic might harm the digestive tract. Replace them with milder ingredients like herbs, olive oil, and simple sauces that do not aggravate IBS.
Sugar and spices are not good for IBS patients. Different sweeteners containing fructose, such as sugar and honey, fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, or an alcohol sweetener like sorbitol, maltitol, or mannitol can harm the intestinal tract. Hence, avoid candies, chewing gum, or any beverage containing these sweeteners. Also, avoid fruits that contain sorbitol like apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, prunes, cherries, and nectarines.
Carbonated, Caffeinated, and Alcoholic Beverages
Fizzy beverages and carbonated drinks like soda can make you feel gassy. Besides, alcohol also proves to be a culprit in aggravating IBS symptoms in a few people. Some people experience IBS after drinking caffeinated coffee, teas, and soft drinks.
Despite the fact that dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants, it may trigger IBS symptoms in some people and cause digestive discomfort. Hence, they should find a substitute for chocolates and other foods containing chocolate.
Condiments make nutritious dishes more delicious, but they have little to offer in terms of nutrition. In fact, some condiments such as ketchup, pickles, soy sauce, chutneys, and barbecue sauces are likely to aggravate IBS symptoms.
Not all “recommended foods” will act the same way with every patient. Some foods will not aggravate any symptom whereas some others will, depending on the quantity, time of the meal, etc. To identify which foods are causing irritation, keep a food journal and record the foods and their quantities that you can eat or cannot eat.
In addition to a proper diet, a routine is equally crucial for individuals suffering from IBS. The time, type, and quantity of food intake should be as consistent as possible. Apart from including the above-mentioned foods in your diet, good sleep, quiet time to relax and relieve stress, and regular physical activity are also key to success.
Exercise plays an important role if you are suffering from IBS. Exercise daily for a minimum of 30 minutes. First, warm-up and stretch, and then start walking. Interval walking is the best way to increase your stamina and keep the energy flowing. You can also run on the treadmill. Strength training is another way to increase metabolism and energy expenditure.
Stress is the underlying cause of many diseases or disorders, IBS is one of them. Hence, avoid any factor that causes stress. If you feel stressed out, either start running on the treadmill or practice a few yoga asanas. Try not to procrastinate. It is one of the major causes of stress.
Eat frequent but small meals throughout the day. Eat the recommended foods and avoid spicy and fatty foods. Peel the fruits and veggies before eating or juicing them. Check the labels while buying canned foods from supermarkets. Cook your food at home.
Early To Bed, Early To Rise
Go to bed early so that you can have a good seven-hour sleep and yet not be late for office or school. You will have time in the morning for exercise and breakfast as well. These two are very important when it comes to your well-being.
Avoid Alcohol And Smoking
Both alcohol and smoking have been found to aggravate IBS symptoms. Therefore, it is best to avoid alcoholic beverages as well as smoking.
Though IBS is a long-term condition, it can be effectively controlled by making a few changes in your diet and lifestyle, such as avoiding foods that aggravate the symptoms, getting regular exercise, and managing stress. Diet is the primary form of treatment for diarrhea patients, but it is more difficult to treat constipation by diet alone. Consult your doctor immediately and get a thorough checkup done if you are suffering from irregular bowel movement and pain.