The Link Between Diet and IBS

If you are regularly troubled by stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation, then you could be a member of the “IBS Club”.

The membership is probably larger than you think, with one in five Australians experiencing Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.

IBS is often seen to be a condition that is poorly managed with no “cure” but this is because most have not been able to identify the complex nature of the condition and how it can be managed through dietary counselling.

Once thought to mainly affect younger adults, there is growing number of people that experience a decline in bowel function and tolerance as they age.

Symptoms of IBS

The symptoms of IBS can strike the sufferer suddenly, requiring an urgent visit to the toilet. In addition to being just plain uncomfortable, they can also be embarrassing – for example:

  • Stomach pain and cramps;
  • Bloating;
  • Flatulence;
  • Diarrhoea;
  • Constipation;
  • Nausea;
  • Mucus

The reason why there are a multitude of symptoms ranging from diarrhoea to constipation is that everyone’s condition is unique and not one has to fit each clinical picture. No matter what form it takes, IBS can restrict a person’s lifestyle, and reduce their confidence. Sufferers often report experiencing worry and anxiety, that often worsens the condition. Worrying about;

  • Holidays and travel;
  • Eating out;
  • Going for long drives, or being caught in peak hour traffic;
  • Attending shows and other events;
  • Visiting friends and family;
  • And even entertaining in their own home.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a bit of a Catch 22 as all this stress and anxiety can actually trigger IBS.

What Causes IBS?

Although there is no single known cause for IBS, what we do know is that the following factors can cause symptoms in sufferers:

  • Certain Foods – eating spicy, fatty and high fibre foods, artificial sweeteners, too much caffeine, and fructose concentrates, may contribute to symptoms for some sufferers. Many of these foods fall into the category of FODMAPS – Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols (you can see why we use the acronym FODMAPS instead!). Some of the most common culprits include garlic and onions, mushrooms, apples and flour.
  • Anxiety and Stress – Changes in routine, money worries, stressful events (even happy occasions like a holiday or wedding) can all worsen symptoms.
  • Hormones – Female sufferers often find that the fluctuating hormones of their menstrual cycle and during pregnancy can change symptoms.
  • Medications – some pain relief and anti-nausea medications can cause difficulties.
  • Illness – IBS can also arise following a bout of gastro, or other stomach upsets.

As the symptoms of IBS mimic other more serious illnesses, such as diverticulitis and colorectal cancer, it is important to see your GP to rule out these more sinister options. While not exactly pleasant, blood tests, stool samples, or other procedures recommended by your Gastroenterologist will help to provide an accurate diagnosis.

How a Dietitian Can Help

Medication may be prescribed for pain relief or to prevent constipation or diarrhoea temporarily, however long-term management usually requires the support of an Accredited Practising Dietitian. This is because research indicates that a low FODMAP diet is the most effective way of managing IBS, with three in four people finding an improvement in symptoms. If this diet is not appropriate for you then it will be up to the skill of the dietitian to find the right diet for you.

When you see a dietitian at Fuel Your Life, not only will you receive support and strategies to identify your trigger foods, but also help to adjust your diet to minimise symptoms – while still ensuring your body receives the nutrients required to keep you in the best health.