The Low-Down on IBS
As women, we are at risk for a ton of illnesses: osteoporosis. Breast cancer. Heart disease. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! In fact, I’ve been getting a lot more questions about IBS and what to eat when you have that condition, and it’s no surprise - women are twice as likely as men to suffer from it.
So what exactly is IBS? Quite simply, it’s an abdominal pain that can be accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, or alternating episodes of both (AboutIBS.org, 2016). Some IBS sufferers also experience bloating and just a general feeling of being gassy. While it’s not associated with a risk in life-threatening illnesses, it still places a burden on the health of those affected by it. When the intestinal lining is repeatedly damaged, microvilli (cells) can’t process and utilize the nutrients and enzymes needed for proper digestion. Digestion is then impaired, which can lead to inflammation and chronic disease, as the normal repair processes are damaged. Not fun.
IBS is triggered by certain foods, stress, hormones, and other illnesses. While it is still unclear the role food allergies or food intolerance play in triggering IBS, many sufferers experience an attack when they eat certain foods. Others experience symptoms when they’re under stress, and many women find their IBS symptoms are worse during their menstrual periods (thus, the link to hormones). Illnesses, such as bacterial overgrowth in the intestines or gastroenteritis, can also trigger IBS.
So what foods are safe to eat for sufferers of IBS? While trigger foods vary from person to person, a general rule of thumb is a diet that is low in fat, free of trigger foods, and careful with insoluble fiber (think: fresh fruits, cooked veggies). For those in the throes of a full-blown IBS attack, the best thing to eat to get the gut under control as quickly as possible are soluble fiber foods (plain white rice, oatmeal, pasta, white bread, etc.) and soluble fiber supplements. Strong hot peppermint, fennel, chamomile, or anise tea is also recommended, as peppermint is a muscle relaxant and painkiller, and fennel helps ease bloating and gas. Once symptoms subside, slow integration of insoluble fiber into the diet is recommended (click here for more information on the IBS diet).
Dealing with IBS is no fun, but it is a condition that can be managed with a bit of due diligence. If you still have questions, either about the IBS diet, or just questions about nutrition in general, contact me, and I will be happy to equip you with some general guidelines and tools that will help you demystify your diet.