Even though it was first described more than 150 years ago, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS ) remains a clinical challenge in the medical world.
It is the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition and also the most common reason for referral to gastroenterology clinics.
Stress is now believed to be one of the most significant factors in triggering IBS, so many sufferers are experiencing even more symptoms than usual amid the current anxiety around coronavirus. Stress can accelerate the colon and slow your stomach. It is commonly perceived that women are twice as likely to be affected as men, however, studies show that men are less likely than women to report symptoms of IBS to their doctor. This has resulted in a lack of useful data.
A diagnosis of IBS does not happen overnight. It can be a slow, painstaking, process during which more malignant diseases are ruled out. Likewise, there is no single treatment. It is a case of trying to understand the main driving forces in each patient.
• Facts about good gut health
Add more fibre to your diet. Become familiar with the labels on food. If a product has more than six grams of fibre per 100 gram portion, then it is considered a high fibre product. Foods such as porridge and wholegrain cereals are top of the tree, but simple changes like opting for whole grain bread instead of white bread can make a real difference.
Plant based foods
Help the gut to help itself by buying in a wider variety of plant based foods. Our guts are filled with good bacteria, that make up what is called our gut flora. By eating more fruit, vegetables, and pulses we are not only eating healthily for ourselves, we are also ensuring our gut flora are eating healthily. To help further, avoid processed foods and choose a better alternative.
Limit red meat
Try to limit red meat, and increase the intake of fish. Red meat is fine in moderation, but eat too much and you increase the likelihood of consuming too many nitrates. This can adversely affect long term gut health.
Eat regularly. Don’t allow too long between meals, and when you eat, make sure you chew your food well before swallowing. Give your gut every chance to absorb the best nutrients it can from what you eat as the food passes through.
We all need at least six cups of water per day to stay healthy and limit high sugar content drinks
Prebiotics and probiotics
Explore the use of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are foods that can encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, such as asparagus, leeks, artichokes, onions and garlic. Probiotics are products that can directly add good bacteria to the gut to help it stay healthy, such as Alflorex, which is available in chemists and health food shops.
Reduce stress. Studies have shown that there is a link between the brain and the gut, called the gut-brain axis, that runs along what is called the vagus nerve. Emotional stress can result in bowel disturbance, as the brain releases certain endorphins that can lead to what your mother would have called “butterflies in the tummy”.