By: Leah Golden, MS, RD
If you are one of the many people dealing with gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and haven’t figured out the cause, it may be time to reach out to the medical professionals. An occasional upset stomach or GI discomfort is pretty normal, but if you’ve been dealing with symptoms more often than not, there may be more investigating to do. We’re well into April, which is also Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to talk about what may be causing the rumbling down under.
In 1997, the IFFGD (International Foundation for GI Disorders) selected April as IBS Awareness Month. If you’ve already been diagnosed with IBS, you are not alone. It’s estimated that ~15% of the American population has IBS, yet many people are not diagnosed or seek medical care and continue to suffer with symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild to extreme discomfort and can have a varying level of impact on a person’s life.
You many have a few questions about IBS, and I’ll briefly address the main topics that are typically of interest. This will be an overview of the common questions, but not an exhaustive list or explanation.
What are the Symptoms of IBS?
The symptoms of IBS vary from person to person, but may include the following:
- Abdominal Pain
- Excessive gas
- Discomfort that’s relieved from a bowel movement
- Combination of the above symptoms
What is the Cause of IBS?
The cause of IBS is still not completely understood, but it is classified as a functional GI disorder. Some people tend to be more susceptible than others for a variety of reasons, possibly including increased gut sensitivity, altered gut motility, an imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut (sometimes referred to as dysbiosis), leaky gut or begins after an infection of the GI tract.
How Is IBS Treated?
The most beneficial treatment plans are related to lifestyle and nutrition modifications. The specific changes one person makes may be different than another, as each person’s sensitivities and triggers will vary. Other treatments may include the FODMAP diet, medications, working with a professional on cognitive behavioral therapy and including probiotics and/or fiber supplements.
The FODMAP diet has proven effective at managing IBS symptoms for many. It may be an effective way to determine what foods may bother you, so that you can avoid specific triggers.
It is best to work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and your doctor to help determine the best treatment plan to help you figure out how to manage symptoms and what may be the source and triggers of your symptoms.
What about Probiotics and Foods for Gut Health?
You may have heard a lot of buzz over the years about probiotics and how they have a benefit for the gut. Probiotics are considered live organisms that when taken in reasonable doses can be beneficial to gut health. The microbiota, essentially the diverse ecological community of organisms that inhabit the GI tract have been studied in relation to IBS symptoms. The type and diversity of healthy bacteria in the GI tract have also been studied. A diverse community of beneficial bacteria may help to manage IBS symptoms. It’s best to work with an RDN and your doctor to figure out what foods and/or supplements may be most beneficial for you. A few natural sources of probiotics that you may enjoy include the following:
- Yogurt (ingredients that include ‘live active cultures’)
If you have any questions or need some guidance on how to approach your own personal experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In health, Leah