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IBS Awareness Month, Make Some Noise

April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, which is all about spreading awareness about what IBS is, what it is like to have it, and the steps you can take to eliminate the symptoms. 

    More than this, it is about reflecting on the importance of gut health and its wider influence on our general health. 

    What is IBS? 

    IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In a nutshell, it is when your tummy is rather sensitive to certain food items, which produces uncomfortable, unwanted, and often embarrassing symptoms for those suffering from it. 

    These symptoms include: 

    • Bloating
    • Extreme and often foul-smelling gas 
    • Diarrhoea
    • Constipation
    • Tummy pain after eating certain foods
    • Nausea
    • Social anxiety

      IBS can cause real discomfort and for those that suffer from the condition, it can be debilitating. 

      Unfortunately, a lot of people suffering from IBS do not actually recognise what drives the condition because it can be difficult to isolate the cause because of the vast number of ingredients that trigger a response. 

      That’s what we are here to change.

      Who does IBS affect?

      IBS is the most common gastrointestinal complaint. The statistics on IBS are interesting and point toward diet being a crucial factor. 

      In the UK it is believed that 15% of the population is affected, in the United States it is estimated to be between 5-10%. Asia has the lowest incidence of reported cases (around 7%), while South America has the highest (around 21%). The Western diet is considered to be a factor in the epidemic. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough studies on the prevalence throughout Africa. 

      IBS affects people of all ages, including children, but it is most common for people in their 20s and 30s. Interestingly, 65-70% of all cases worldwide are women. It is unclear why women are affected twice as much as men. 

      What treatment is available for IBS? 

      It is believed that IBS is the result of an underlying gut health issue, which makes it difficult to treat. This is because everyone’s gut microbiome is unique and the real issue is dysbiosis - a fancy word meaning disbalance.

      Treatments for IBS are being investigated and they involve faecal transplants/capsules to alter the gut biome (nicknamed crapsules), or injecting bacteria strains directly into the gut, but more research is required before this will be publicly available. 

      The most common solution to IBS is through changing your diet to reduce or eliminate foods that cause or are likely to cause an adverse response. 

      Some food items have been characterised as being more problematic than others, although individuals can develop intolerances to anything. A system for recognising foods according to their value of fermentable starches has been created to help people steer away from problematic ingredients. That is because the fermentation process is a primary cause of symptoms in people that struggle to digest them. 

      The system is called FODMAP. The higher the FODMAP score, the more likely it is to give you trouble. 

      Natural remedies for IBS

      Simple changes to your lifestyle and diet can have dramatic effects on your gut health, so these simple tips can really help you manage a sensitive tummy. 

      For example, increasing your dietary fibre is very beneficial for your gut health and can help regulate your toilet habits, especially if you find difficulty in passing your stools (poo). This is because fibre is not easily digested but does not ferment, so it acts like a broom that clears out waste from your intestines, including food items that may have gotten stuck some time ago, which may also inhabit populations of unfriendly bacteria. 

      Fibre also adds bulk to your stools, which is good for those that suffer from IBS-D (diarrhoea). This simple change might be enough to eradicate that uncomfortable symptom, so don’t underestimate it. 

      Drinking water is also an important lifestyle change that can have a meaningful impact on your gut health and symptoms. Water activates enzymes and transports them to your digestive tract, which aids your body to break down food particles. More water means better digestion and fewer symptoms. 

      Water is also necessary to transport your digested food to and through your waste canal. Some people absorb too much water, which is why their stools are so runny. In this case, it is extra important to increase both your fibre intake to bulk out your stools, but also your water to replace lost fluids. 

      Increasing your vegetable intake can also have a tremendous benefit on your gut. That’s because you will most likely increase your fibre intake by eating more veg, but also because eating lots of different vegetables has a positive effect on the diversity in your gut flora. 

      In other words, more vegetables mean better balance, which generally means a healthier gut with fewer symptoms. 

      Final thoughts on IBS Awareness Month

      IBS and bowel-related topics don’t normally fare well as conversation topics, but it is IBS awareness month, so give yourself permission to talk about it freely with your colleagues and friends. 

      Having a medical condition that affects 15% of the UK population is not something to be ashamed of, if anything, we should feel uncomfortable about not being able to talk about it. 

      So, for your tummy’s sake, talk some crap. You might not get the chance for another year. 

      For more information on IBS, check out the book ‘Irritable Bowel Solutions’, by Professor John Hunter, an authority and specialist on gastrointestinal complaints, and co-founder of JUVIA.
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