What to know about IBS
IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, may be a familiar topic for you whether you have IBS yourself or know a loved one who does. IBS is consistently evolving as more and more research is being done due to the high volume of people who are now suffering from it. In today’s post, we’re sharing our functional approach to IBS regarding what we believe to be the root cause of IBS and our thoughts on how to treat IBS through diet and lifestyle.
What is IBS?
IBS is different from most diagnoses given that it represents a group of symptoms rather than an actual diagnosis. Let me explain here! Essentially, a patient is told they have IBS as a result of all other tests and diagnosis coming back negative (celiac, crohn’s, colitis, SIBO, etc). IBS is best understood as a disorder of the gut-brain axis (the communication pathway between the gut, brain, and central nervous system) that is impacted by diet, stress, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
IBS is grouped into three categories: IBS-D, IBS-C, and IBS-M. IBS-D stands for diarrhea, while IBS-C stands for constipation, and IBS-M represents mixed (both diarrhea and constipation). Depending on which side of the spectrum you fall on, your symptoms will vary.
Classic signs and symptoms of IBS include:
- Bloating and gas
- Diarrhea and/ or Constipation
- Abdominal pain/ cramping
- Heartburn and Indigestion
- Depression and Anxiety
- Mucus in your stool (often looks white)
Root Causes of IBS
IBS is unique in its diagnosis. Meaning that it is not diagnosed as a result of a positive test result, rather one’s symptoms are the primary indicator and may be supported through routine blood tests and stool tests.
As functional RD, we look for the root cause of the disease and symptoms. We recognize the complexity of IBS and believe that in many cases IBS is not just a result of one’s mental wellbeing (although it plays a role) but can be attributed to a mix of a few things going on!
Root causes of IBS:
- Gut dysbiosis
- Intestinal hyperpermeability (Leaky gut)
- Gut-brain axis dysfunction
- Low stomach acid
- Food allergies/sensitivities
- Hormonal imbalances
- Chronic stress
- Anxiety + depression
At ISN, we work with tons of clients who come to us as a last resort. They have been to countless doctors to manage their IBS and have left with little to no success. We believe that IBS is not something you should suffer from for the rest of your life!
Instead, we work with clients to identify triggers, find the root cause through a functional lens, then rework one’s diet and lifestyle to address the root cause. Once these steps are taken, IBS symptoms are often alleviated and our client’s quality of life significantly improves.
IBS and Diet
There’s no question that diet plays a role in the management of IBS. Finding the foods that are triggering can be complicated which is why the low-fodmap diet is one of the primary treatment methods. While the low-fodmap diet can be effective in helping identify food triggers, it can easily be misused where it is meant to be followed short-term – not long-term (this can actually be problematic for your microbiome) . Additionally, it can easily cause food fear where people become fearful of eating any foods that are not low-fodmap even if they do not react to them.
This is why we usually start by looking at foods that are very commonly triggering; from there, if needed, we address high-fodmap foods and use the low-fodmap diet selectively on an as-needed basis (this is VERY rare for us actually!)
Foods that can trigger IBS symptoms
While everyone’s bodies are different, we find that there are common foods that trigger IBS symptoms. These foods often trigger an inflammatory response and are harder for the body to digest.
Foods that may trigger IBS symptoms:
- Artificial Sweeteners (ex: sorbitol, xylitol, aspartame)
- Added fibers and gums (ex: inulin, chicory root, guar gum, xanthan gum)
- Processed foods
- Spicy Foods
- Fried Foods
These are the foods we focus on eliminating or limiting to start FIRST and then move on to additional foods if symptoms are still persistent.
Foods and beverages we love for IBS
Once food/beverage triggers are identified, finding substitutes can be tricky. Luckily, we have compiled a list of some of our favorite IBS-friendly foods.
- Coffee Alternatives: Dandy Blend, Matcha, MUD/WTR,
- Gluten Alternatives: Almond, Coconut, Oat-based products
- Dairy Alternatives: Nut-milks (watch for added gums and emulsifiers), Coconut-based products
- Easier to digest fruits: Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Papaya, Watermelon, Banana
- Easier to digest vegetables: Zucchini, Cucumber, Spinach, Green Beans
- High-quality proteins: Organic chicken, Grass-fed Beef, Wild-caught fish, Organic Tofu
- Healthy fats: Avocado, nuts and seeds, EVOO, Avocado oil, Coconut oil, Ghee
- Complex carbs: Root vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, parsnips), Brown rice
Friendly reminder that everyone is different! These are just a few foods/beverages that are USUALLY well tolerated, but may be different for you!
IBS and Lifestyle
Lastly, but definitely not the least important, addressing one’s lifestyle is critical in IBS management. While the exact mechanisms of IBS are unclear, there is a definite connection between IBS and the gut-brain axis. Putting it simply, the brain/central nervous system and the gut are directly impacting each other which is why one’s emotional wellbeing plays such a role in IBS.
Reworking one’s lifestyle to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety is just as important as addressing one’s diet. We see this all of the time! Oftentimes, a client will be eating incredibly clean, and yet their symptoms are still top of mind due to the strong emotions they are experiencing on a daily basis.
Some of our top tips to reduce stress and improve mood here:
- Engage in mindfulness practices daily (meditation, journaling, yoga)
- Get moving (aim for at least 20 minutes a day)!
- Get outside (I can’t stress this one enough, bonus if it’s in the sun!)
- Talk to friends and family
- Do something that brings you joy daily! (this could be something as simple as going to your favorite coffee shop or taking a bath before bed)
- Set boundaries with your phone (avoid using it first thing upon waking and before going to bed)
The Bottom Line
Treating IBS takes a whole-body approach. While stress and emotion play a role in IBS, we believe there is often a deeper cause behind the chronic symptoms you’re experiencing. This is why the root cause needs to be found and addressed through diet and lifestyle!
Suffering from IBS? Click here to work with us!