Characterised by abdominal pain, bloating, with alternating constipation and diarrhoea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be attributed to environmental factors or diet. The actual cause is unknown, but it certainly is an inflammation that affects the bowel functions.
Environmental factors include stress, routine changes, infection or psychological. Symptoms vary in severity, but they can last for at least 3 months and occur regularly every week. IBS isn’t related to any other bowel conditions and doesn’t contribute to the development of serious conditions such as cancer. Sometimes called ‘spastic colon’ IBS has very unpleasant, embarrassing symptoms and affects around one in five Australians, generally after the age of 40. And affects twice as many women as it does men.
Research has shown that the neurotransmitter serotonin may be important in the symptoms of IBS, by altering the function of nerve cells in the bowel and causing changes in pain sensation and bowel function. Researchers believe that there is an interaction between the gut, the brain and the autonomic nervous system. About one hundred million nerve cells can be found in the small intestine. Mess with these and you get painful spastic cramps. The brain sends signals to the gut which play a critical role in maintaining the best digestive function and moderating of your moods. Serotonin is an important signalling molecule and lack of serotonin may be responsible for IBS. 95% of your body serotonin resides in the gut. After serotonin is released, it binds to the receptors on the nerve endings of the intestinal wall. IBS patients have a significant decrease in the serotonin transporter in the bowel cells.
There are 3 major categories which may also include bloating, mucus in the stools or nausea.
- Constipation. The patient alternates constipation with normal poo. Eating commonly triggers abdominal cramping, which equates to spastic colon movements.
- Diarrhoea. People experience an urgent need to go to the toilet first thing in the morning or after eating.
- Constipation and diarrhoea alternating.
Certain factors can trigger attacks.
- An infectious episode of gastroenteritis can result in persistent IBS, long after the bacteria has been eradicated.
- Diminished absorption of the sugar lactose found in dairy and processed foods is the most common dietary activation.
- Low fibre diets can aggravate the constipation IBS.
- Anxiety or stress can affect the nerves in the bowel.
- Side effects from certain types of medication can lead to constipation or diarrhoea.
It is important to seek medical advice, just to be sure your symptoms are not more serious and a diagnosis does ease your mind instead of worrying about what might be wrong. We all need that reassurance that we don’t have cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist in digestive diseases.
The consensus is that IBS can’t be cured, but that you can identify and avoid triggers. Your colon may be over-sensitive to the slightest disruption in your digestive system. Dietary changes can often relieve IBS symptoms. If you are constipated, eat more soluble fibre and if you have diarrhoea cut down on insoluble fibre. Avoid gluten, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods and high-fat foods.
Increase dietary fibre, drink plenty of fluids, reduce wind producing foods and eliminate dairy. Keep a food diary and gradually re-introduce a food, then monitor your body’s reaction. It will be worth the effort.
Australian researchers have recently developed the FODMAP diet that may help to control IBS symptoms. It involves restricting the intake of certain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by the bowel. For more information, visit the Monash University website.
And we advocate using turmeric – a natural anti-inflammatory to combat the inflammation in your bowels. There are some positive findings relating to turmeric use in reducing IBS symptoms. More research is required but certainly maintaining digestive health with turmeric and curcumin is a positive move towards alleviation. Turmeric powder or capsules are available from www.turmericaustralia.com.au
It is a given that the 21st century has increased our stress levels. There never seems to be enough hours in the day, so if at all possible, take time out for a walk or curl up on the sofa with a book. Relax and de-stress. Take time out for you.