Given how common irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is – around one in five women in Australia and New Zealand experience IBS symptoms – and the impact that it can have on quality of life, it’s no surprise that the low FODMAP diet has become hugely popular. But is adopting a low FODMAP way of eating the only way to address your IBS symptoms?
In short, no. It certainly can be an effective way of managing IBS symptoms, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the first place you start. This is primarily because it’s quite a restrictive way of eating and many nutritious foods are high in FODMAPs. If it is followed long-term without professional guidance, you may be at risk of nutritional deficiencies which has a lousy impact on your health.
Remember also, the low FODMAP diet is not a no FODMAP diet. Nor is it a forever diet – it is a tool intended to identify the foods exacerbating your IBS symptoms so reintroductions need to occur as part of this. As the diet isn’t curative (it is for symptom management only) work must continue to be done on the gut and digestion to help improve its function.
To that effect, let’s look at some of the other considerations that can lead to an unhappy tummy and measures you can take to address symptoms commonly associated with IBS—such as bloating, cramping, excessive flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation or intermittent bouts of both.
Chew your food properly
This may seem obvious, but thorough chewing can be a gamechanger for reducing IBS symptoms. The stomach doesn’t like to allow food to move into your small intestine for further digestion until it is well broken down. There are no teeth beyond our mouth, yet so many people eat as though their oesophagus is lined with teeth!
To help you slow down and chew properly, try not to take another mouthful until you have completely chewed and swallowed the previous one. If you find this difficult, putting your knife and fork down between each bite can be helpful.
Address your stress
The gut has its very own nervous system (often referred to as our second brain) and stress is known to exacerbate IBS symptoms—think bloating, constipation and diarrhoea, for example.
When we’re feeling anxious or stressed our body releases stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol). Adrenaline is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response, which was originally designed to give you a better chance of escaping a threat to your life—think a tiger chasing you. Because digestion isn’t a priority if your life is in danger, the stress response hinders digestive processes by reducing the secretion of enzymes into the digestive tract that are required to digest and absorb nutrients, and altering the motility of the digestive tract. So, addressing your stress can also help you to manage IBS symptoms.
Reduce or eliminate caffeine
If you find things are moving through your digestive tract a little too quickly, you may like to consider your caffeine intake, as it is known to stimulate bowel motility which can lead to urgent, looser stools for some people. Caffeine also triggers the release of adrenaline which you now know can hinder our body’s ability to digest foods optimally. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, so pay attention to how it affects you and your digestion.
Please note that if you are experiencing chronic gut symptoms and you haven’t yet seen your doctor to rule out other bowel conditions, it’s important to do this. If you have been diagnosed with IBS and are experiencing ongoing, significant symptoms, I encourage you to seek support from an experienced healthcare professional. There is always a reason/s behind what we experience and resolving IBS could have a huge impact on your overall health and happiness.