Your Complete Guide To IBS: Probiotics, Prebiotics, Symptoms and Treatments
IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common long term health problem which often manifests itself in the form of bloating, stomach cramps or diarrhoea and or constipation.
That much at least is common knowledge. What many people don’t know is that it affects around 1 in 5 people and it can be a lifetime condition.
The issue here is that the symptoms can range in severity. For many people with IBS the condition is obvious. After all it’s hard to forget about bowel irritation due to the discomfort it causes in everyday life. From diet to stress, exercise, probiotic imbalance, or simple natural predisposition, the causes of IBS are varied and for the large part unknown.
What we do know, however, is that symptoms often manifest in your 20s and 30s and that it effects twice as many women as it does men.
At Vegavero we pride ourselves on being market leaders in terms of quality and a large part of that is effective communication. Therefore we wanted to put together a comprehensive guide to this common condition.
These often vary from individual to individual and this makes this already elusive condition even harder to pinpoint. Also, because of the varied nature of IBS, many people with the condition are not even aware that they are suffering from it. This is for a variety of reasons and it has been suggested that a lack of appropriate information, simple embarrassment or misdiagnosis may be to blame.
- stomach pain and cramping, which may be relieved by using the toilet
- a change in your bowel movements – diarrhoea, constipation, or sometimes both
- bloating and swelling
- an urgent need to go to the toilet
- feeling that you are unable to finish going to the toilet
Despite the fact that IBS is an incredibly commonplace and well known problem only a small percentage of people actually seek treatment. While IBS is a long-term condition, treatment is simple, readily available, and effective.
Changing your diet can be both a cause and an effective treatment for IBS. Many people who have ever undergone a new diet – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, paleo – will attest to the fact that it takes the gut a little while to adjust to the influx or quantity of new nutrients in their body.
After some time though, usually between 2-6 weeks, a healthy colon will adjust and start passing these foods naturally. If the problem persists, then it may mean that you are suffering from IBS.
The first thing to do when adjusting your diet for IBS is to start thinking about your fibre intake.
If you are suffering from constipation you will need to increase the amount of soluable fibre you ingest. This can be found in:
- fruit – such as bananas and apples
- root vegetables – such as carrots and potatoes
If you are suffering from diarrhoea then you should cut down on the amount of insoluable fibre in your diet. This can be found in:
- wholegrain bread
- nuts and seeds
What about a FODMAP?
The most common and medically prescribed diet plan for IBS is known as FODMAP. FODMAP is an abbreviation which breaks down the kinds of foods that are likely to IBS symptoms to flare up.
FODMAP stands for: Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. If these words seem confusing take a quick look over our guide to carbohydrates. All of these words are essentially the scientific names for short-chain carbohydrates or sugars.
The issue with these kind of carbohydrates is that they are difficult to break down and absorb. As a result, they begin to ferment in the gut, and the gas that this releases can cause bloating.
A low FODMAP diet essentially involves cutting out many fruits and vegetables, animal milk, wheat products and beans. The IBS free website has a great resource on the most common High & Low FODMAP foods
Changing to a plant-based diet has often been touted as a treatment for IBS due to the lack of lactose (milk sugar) which is a common disaccharide. However, this approach has some pretty obvious pitfalls as many common vegan foods such as soy, avocado and even garlic are high in FODMAPS. If you are a vegan and suffer with IBS then you should check The Vegan RD’s guide to low FODMAP vegan foods
The issue with the FODMAP approach is that many FODMAP foods are actually very healthy. Most of these short-chain carbohydrates are amazing sources of prebiotics. Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotics and help promote intestinal health.
Probiotics are essential for a healthy gut. (You can read more about them in our in-depth probiotic blog). They are the friendly bacteria that help to keep everything in balance and allow you to digest your food properly.
As prebiotics are the main source of energy for probiotics , and prebiotics can cause IBS symptoms to flare up, many people believe that increasing your probiotic intake can help alleviate the symptoms of IBS and re-balance the complex ecosystem of the intestine.
Foods that are high in probiotics include:
- Kefir (fermented milk drink)
If you’re looking at that list with a certain trepidation then you’re probably not the only one. If you don’t fancy the switch to a German / Japanese fusion diet, don’t worry, help is at hand.
We have developed a brand new Organic Probiotic Culture Mix. Our capsules are made-up of the 10 most important bacterial species for an optimal intestinal balance (four strains Bifidobacterium and six strains Lactobacillus). These probiotic tablets are completely vegan and are designed to help alleviate the symptoms of IBS and promote weight loss.
In fact, combining probiotic lactobacilli with soluable fibre such as konjac glucomannan can be seriously effective. A 2012 study in the Nutrition and Food Science Journal found that konjac glucomannan combined with probiotic bacteria, may be used to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria. This study supports the idea of a natural, plant based approach to reduce infections and promote consumer health.
Sometimes it feels as if exercise is the answer to everything. Truthfully, with one or two exceptions, it almost always is.
Aside from being great stress relief – another red flag for IBS sufferers – regular exercise can help make you feel better. This is because exercise is vital for the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal system.
New information, published this week by the New York Times, shows that people who exercise regularly are better able to fight the inflammation and irritation of the colon – symptomatic of IBS – that comes as a result of bacterial infection or imbalance in the gut.
Let’s put the new science aside for a moment and think about what we know inherently about our own bodies. Conventional wisdom teaches us that the simplest solution is, by law of averages, is correct. Thus it stands to reason that if your body is inactive, your stomach will follow suit; if your body is active, your stomach will be healthier and better regulated.
A 2011 study showed that IBS sufferers who exercised for just half an hour, three to five days a week, saw tangible improvements in their abdominal pain, stool problems, and other symptoms.
The Bottom Line
IBS can be exhausting and there is no sure fire way that ensures a symptom free day. However, taking the care to balance your diet, exercising regularly and finding the right probiotic should make things much easier.
While IBS doesn’t pose a serious threat to your health it can be a painful and debilitating condition. Especially with regards to confidence. The problem for many is that as symptoms wax and wane naturally, it slips to the back of their mind and as such very few people seek advice and thus have precious little information on how to combat this common condition.
With the right tools, attitude and medical treatment there is no reason that IBS should hold you back.