IBS and links to other conditions

IBS is something many people suffer with. It's the one where the doctor says you have it if they've tested you for 'more serious' conditions and can't find out what's wrong. But anyone who's suffered with IBS will know that actually, it is quite serious. Bloating, wind, pain, constipation, diarrhoea - it's just no fun. It can at best be inconvenient, and at worst really quite debilitating. 

Interestingly, IBS tends to come hand in hand with other conditions. Things like indigestion and acid reflux - no surprise there really. But how about bladder irritation, headaches and migraines, insomnia, chronic fatigue, Fibromyalgia and depression?

What's going on? Theory is that the composition of bacteria in the intestines becomes unbalanced (dysbiosis), often due to things like food insensitivities or lack of digestive chemicals, and this prompts the immune system to release inflammation-inducing chemicals. This in turn leads to nervous system stimulation, and the digestive system becomes hypersensitive. What you might not appreciate is how closely the gut and brain are connected. Your gut sends an awful lot of information to your brain, so if it is hypersensitive it's not too big a leap to see the connection to how some of these other conditions might develop.

So what can you do? Well obviously there's addressing any imbalance of your gut bacteria. You could eat fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and other sour pickles, tempeh and miso (fermented soya foods), kefir, and plain unsweetened bio-yoghurt (not an exhaustive list!) or take a supplement of probiotics for starters. 

You could also feed the bacteria that are already in your gut so they proliferate. Leeks, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory (raw contains greater concentrations) are all good sources of prebiotic fibre, which are the food of choice for friendly bacteria. Kiwis contain a unique prebiotic fibre that has been shown to help with IBS symptoms.[1]  Just two per day have been shown to be of benefit! The polyphenols in green tea, cocoa, apples and blueberries are a source of probiotics that can be helpful. You can also buy probiotics in supplement form if you prefer.

And what's really interesting is the link between IBS and insomnia. So many people suffer with sleep problems, and maybe addressing the gut problem could help find the long sought solution to insomnia? If you've had a bad night do you find your gut problems are worse? If you do suffer with both IBS and sleep problems, think about tackling the IBS to see if it helps you get a better night.

It can be difficult to think where to start, particularly if you've suffered with IBS for some time and are at a loss as to what might be underlying your condition. Nutritional therapy may have some answers for you. A nutritional therapist could help you identify triggers and discover ways you might help ease some of your IBS symptoms.

Now give those friendly bacteria a treat. Go and make yourself a cup of green tea and have it with a square or two of dark chocolate!

[1]. Chang CC, Lin YT, Lu YT, Liu YS, Liu JF., Kiwifruit improves bowel function in patients with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2010;19(4):451-7.,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21147704

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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