Living with IBS

April is IBS Awareness Month. Most people who suffer from IBS don’t realize how common it actually is and that there are things you can do about it to help.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is deemed a ‘syndrome,’ which means a group of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain or discomfort. This may include cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. IBS is not a disease, but a functional disorder, which means the bowel does not function as it normally would.

One of the main problems with IBS is that doctors are not exactly sure what causes it. The muscles and nerves in the bowel appear to be ultra sensitive for those who have IBS. This can cause the muscles to contract too much when you eat causing cramping and diarrhea during the meal, or shortly after.

What you can do
It is hard for people to cope with the fact that there is no direct cure for IBS, but there are ways to examine what triggers the flare-ups.

One key food that may actually help IBS sufferers is fiber. Fiber can be helpful because it improves how the intestines work. There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber helps both diarrhea and constipation and simply dissolves in water, forming a gel-like material. Many foods contain soluble fiber such as apples, beans and citrus. Psyllium fiber is also a natural vegetable fiber and is also a source of soluble fiber. Psyllium fiber can be purchased in the form of a supplement such as Metamucil, which can be added to water and drank, or simply to other foods.

Insoluble fiber can help with constipation by allowing material to move through you digestive system and also adding bulk to your bowel movements. This type of fiber is found in whole grains, wheat bran and several vegetables.

The best way to incorporate fiber into your diet is to do so slowly. If you introduce it into your diet too quickly it can worsen the stomach pains and cause bloating. If this happens, just slow down and once your body becomes use to it, it will get better.

What people may not realize is that foods are not the actual cause of IBS. There are, however, certain foods that may make the condition worse, such as high-fatty foods or caffeine. These two ‘triggers’ can cause your intestines to contract, causing severe cramping.

A good way to keep track of the foods that specifically bother you is to keep a diary of the foods that you eat. You can make notes of the foods that specifically bother you and cause you problems. Be sure that you don’t cut out foods simply because you have heard they may bother you; learn from your own experiences, not someone else’s.

Milk products seem to worsen IBS is you are already lactose intolerant. If you are, you may want to limit your dairy intake and switch to soy-based products in order to help the problem.