If you're one of the estimated 23% of women or 11% of men with IBS, you'll know that at best it's an inconvenience and at worst, it's life-changingly stressful and debilitating. As a hypnotherapist with a background in nutrition, IBS is one of the most common issues I help clients with.
Symptoms of IBS range from bloating, to diarrhea, to constipation, to cramps and pain; or an intermittent mix of all of these.
IBS is in many ways a bit of a mystery. There's no single test for IBS; a GP will likely diagnose it by ruling out any other potential issues, which can add to the frustration if you're looking for answers and treatment.
Your gut is a complex place; think of it as being kind of like a huge alien planet, home to what is thought to be around 100 trillion bacteria, which is more in number than there are cells in your body.
Now, not everyone knows this, but there are a lot of neurons in the gut, more than there are in your spinal chord and more than there are in the head of a cat. We often talk about "gut feelings" but experts in the field sometimes call the gut the "second brain." Many IBS sufferers will say that their emotions, particularly stress levels, can make their symptoms worse. If you feel tense and stressed, it could make your digestive system tense and stressed too and exacerbate IBS symptoms.
With such a huge surface area and all those bugs, different foods and neurons, it's no wonder things can go a little awry in there.
There isn't a single cause of IBS and it's likely to differ from person to person. Factors such as emotional issues, stress, diet, lifestyle and intestinal flora balance could all play a part. There is some evidence to suggest that early life trauma is also a risk factor, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. A common theme that my clients describe is that they feel they 'hold on' to their feelings in their stomachs.
It's important to speak to your doctor to get a proper diagnosis of IBS and to rule out anything potentially more serious, but having done that, here are my tips for managing IBS
1. Try taking a peppermint oil supplement.
It could help to calm muscles spasms in the gut
2. Look into the low-FODMAP diet.
This stands for the unpronounceable "fructo-oligo-di-mono-saccharides," which are basically foods which contain gas-producing carbohydrates. All the well-known gassy culprits are there — beans, broccoli and onions — along with wheat and dairy products. Speak to a nutritionist before embarking on this so that you don't miss out on essential nutrients. There is good evidence that the FODMAP diet works to reduce symptoms.
3. Consider getting help for any stress, emotional issues or past trauma.
Things like yoga, meditation and exercise may help. Cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy are both supported by NICE (the governing body of the National Health service in the UK) as effective for those with IBS.
4. Probiotics may be effective at reducing gas in some people.
While there's evidence to support the use of probiotics, often it's a case of trying different brands and strains and finding one which suits you.
5. Eat slowly and mindfully and remember to chew your food thoroughly.
Eating regular meals may also help.
Although there is no one 'cure' for IBS, the tips listed above can make a real difference. Sometimes it will be a case of trying a few different things until you find something that works for you, so don't give up.
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