Irritable bowel syndrome - make a difference with diet

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a term used to describe unpleasant bowel and gut symptoms that some people suffer after eating. The condition is very common and affects about one in five people. As many as four million people in the UK suffer its debilitating symptoms.

 Common symptoms of IBS:

  • abdominal pains
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • wind/gas
  • tiredness.

Sometimes symptoms can change over time, and often differ from person to person.

Diet and IBS:

Fortunately, the dietary treatment of IBS has recently been transformed in the UK. Australian experts have found that some types of carbohydrate are poorly absorbed by some people and ferment in the gut. This fermentation then leads to the common symptoms of IBS - especially bloating, and abdominal discomfort.

These fermentable carbohydrates are known as and abbreviated to FODMAP's (Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols). By altering the diet and lowering FODMAP content, symptoms of IBS often dramatically improve - evidence from Austrailia has shown that changing dietary intake can improve symptoms by as much as 76 per cent.

Following low FODMAP diet is complicated and very restrictive. It is therefore not recommended as a first line treatment. If you think you may have IBS, it is important you visit your doctor for an assessment and diagnosis, your GP will be able to offer some tests and may want to rule out other reasons for symptoms. If you plan to follow low FODMAP's, make sure you seek support from a registered dietitian - their professional support will ensure your diet remains well-balanced while you follow the diet.

Some IBS self help:

There are some simple dietary and lifestyle changes that have been shown to help some people who suffer IBS type symptoms. Try some of these suggestions to get you started:

  • Eat regular, small meals and take time to eat slowly.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake from tea, coffee and energy drinks.
  • Avoid fizzy, sweet drinks.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake.
  • Limit fatty foods.
  • Get regular daily exercise - aim for 30 minutes five times a week.
  • Drink plenty of water – aim for two litres of fluid daily.
  • Avoid eating wheat bran.
  • Eat one piece of fruit at a time – avoid too much in one go.
  • If you use probiotics, monitor your symptoms and the effect.
  • Find ways that help you to relax such as yoga, meditation, exercise or reading.
  • Keep a food and symptom diary to try to identify any food triggers.

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