Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes diarrhoea, bloating, constipation, and cramps. Various reasons can cause IBS, and experts aren’t sure about the root cause. The exact cause of IBS depends on the individual.
Because IBS triggers vary from one individual to the other, no one diet works for all to prevent worsening the symptoms. However, certain foods worsen IBS symptoms.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown; however, the condition has been linked with food either passing through your gut quickly or too slowly. IBS can also result from a family history of the condition, stress, or oversensitive nerves.
Symptoms of IBS
For a diagnosis of IBS, your doctor will ask you whether you’ve had recurrent abdominal pain associated with two of these symptoms at least once a week for the past three months.
These symptoms are:
- Painful bowel movement
- A change in stool consistency or appearance
- A change in the frequency of your stool
- For a diagnosis to be made, symptoms have to present for at least six months.
Causes of IBS
Even though the causes of IBS are unknown, certain factors play a role.
- Nervous system: When the nerves in your digestive system have issues, it may cause discomfort when your abdomen stretches due to stool or gas. When you have poorly coordinated signals between the brain and your intestines, it can cause your body to overreact to changes that normally occur in the digestive tract. This can cause diarrhoea, pain, and constipation.
- Changes in gut microbiome: The bacteria that reside in your intestines are like your inner ecosystem. Once there are changes there, it can affect your health. According to professionals, the gut microbiome of people with IBS differs from those without the condition.
- Muscles in the intestines: Your intestines are lined with layers of muscles which contract as it moves food through your digestive tract. When the contractions in your intestines are strong, and last longer, they can cause bloating gas and diarrhoea. Alternatively, if you have weak contractions, it can cause slow food passage, which can lead to hard, dry stool.
- Infections: When you have severe diarrhoea caused by a virus or bacteria known as gastroenteritis, it is possible to develop IBS afterward. IBS can also develop due to bacteria overgrowth in your gastrointestinal tract.
- Stress: People exposed to stress earlier in life, especially in adulthood, tend to develop IBS.
IBS triggers and how to avoid them
The most common IBS triggers are food, stress, and medication. Here, we’ll look at both and how you can manage them.
When you suffer from IBS, food can trigger constipation, bloating, or diarrhoea. When you’re suffering from food intolerances, and you’re unaware of that fact, it can also be a contributing factor to your IBS symptoms. You need to get an Intolerance Test to know which foods are causing you these symptoms.
Different foods can trigger different symptoms of IBS. For example, certain foods can trigger bloating, and constipation, include:
- Baked and deep-fried goods made of refined white flour
- Carbonated drinks, coffee, and alcohol
- Processed foods like cookies and chips
- Dairy products
- High-protein diets (animal protein)
What most of these foods have in common is their lack of fibre. If you want to prevent bloating and constipation associated with IBS, you need to:
- Eat less food high in sugar, especially refined sugar. Consuming sugar that comes with fibre in fruits and vegetables is best.
- Increase your fibre intake Increasing your fibre intake too much all at once can cause your IBS symptoms to flare up. To be safe, add 2-3 grams of fibre to your diet daily until your body gets used to it.
- Drink more water to help ease your bowel movement and also boost digestion.
Specific foods can trigger IBS symptoms like diarrhoea. These include:
- Excess fibre intake, especially insoluble fibre
- Carboated drinks
- Wheat consumed by those intolerant to it
- Dairy products consumed by people with lactose intolerance
- Large meals
- Foods and drinks that contain sorbitol, fructose, caffeine, alcohol, or chocolate
- Fried and fatty foods
How to avoid these triggers or manage them
- Refrain from mixing hot and cold foods, for example, drinking iced tea and soup simultaneously.
- Eating enough soluble fibre is good for adding bulk to your stool. The best sources of this type of fibre include whole wheat, barley, brown rice, fresh fruits, and dried fruits.
- Reduce your portions
- Avoid vegetables that cause gas for you. These could include broccoli, cabbage, and onions.
- Get an Intolerance Test if you think you may have a food intolerance.
- Drink water an hour before or after meals but not with meals.
Anxiety and stress are other factors that trigger IBS symptoms. It is easy to get stressed due to work, school, financial issues, relationship issues, or even due to a sense of things being out of control.
Managing stress will mean easing your IBS symptoms. You can do so by:
- Choosing healthy habits like eating a balanced diet that works for your IBS, getting enough sleep, and regularly exercising.
- Talk to those you trust around you and let them understand what you’re going through with IBS, and they can help support you in ways that matter.
- You can also find ways to calm yourself down. It could be through behavioural therapy or other practices like meditation.
- Do activities that you enjoy, like reading, singing, or drawing.
Some drugs can trigger diarrhoea and constipation. People who suffer from IBS also have trouble with medications like antidepressants, antibiotics, and medicine with sorbitol, like cough syrup.
Instead of stopping the medicine causing IBS symptoms, you need to speak with your doctor and let them know so they can switch them up for you. When it comes to antidepressants, avoid older ones like tricyclic which can cause constipation.
Final thoughts on how to avoid IBS triggers
IBS can be utterly frustrating, and finding ways to know what triggers your symptoms will help you better manage them. Other IBS triggers include:
- Chewing gum
- Eating too fast
- Not enough exercise
- Eating while doing something else, like driving or working
If you choose to live a healthy lifestyle, it will help you manage your IBS symptoms, know which foods trigger them, exercise, and eat mindfully. If you’re unaware of your food intolerances, take an Intolerance Test and avoid those foods that cause symptoms.