Anxiety is one of the most significant IBS triggers
According to gastroenterologist Dr Serge Mayrand, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is caused by “a defect in the neuromodulation of the gut”. In other words, there’s a communications breakdown in the chemical and electrical signals travelling between your brain and digestive system. Although anxiety itself isn’t to blame for that defect, stress certainly doesn’t make life easier for those living with the condition.
Not only can anxiety trigger IBS symptoms, for some unfortunate sufferers, IBS can in turn trigger anxiety. People who experience bowel control anxiety (BCA) fear that their IBS will cause public incontinence. This heightens anxiety, which aggravates IBS symptoms in a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.
The fix: If your anxiety is mild, herbal remedies like lavender, and supplements like omega-3 or magnesium, may help relieve mild anxiety. For more severe cases, cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of IBS.
Admit it, you probably drink too much coffee. According to a 2016 study published in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, coffee is one of the 10 most commonly reported IBS triggers, thanks to its high caffeine content. Too much caffeine can cause indigestion and cramping, so three cups of coffee or tea a day should be your limit, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
The fix: If you’re sleepy during the day, there are plenty of other ways to stay awake and alert, including letting in sunlight, adopting a morning yoga routine… If you drink coffee and tea for the taste, switch to caffeine-free.
According to a 2016 study conducted by the University of Rijeka in Croatia, “depression is an important element in the vicious cycle experienced by IBS patients”. As with anxiety, IBS and depression feed each other: Depression can trigger symptoms of IBS, which can exacerbate the low moods that characterise depression.
The fix: Dedicated relaxation time and a mood-friendly diet can help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Sure, fructose can be bad, but as long as you stay away from sugary drinks and processed baked goods you’re fine, right? Not so fast. This sneaky sugar is also found naturally in many fruit and vegetables, including apples, bananas, broccoli and cabbage. If you’re experiencing bloating, gas, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, these ‘healthy foods’ might be the culprits.
The fix: To avoid fructose-related indigestion, experts at University of Wisconsin Health recommend cutting out prepared baked goods, as well as sweetened fruit juices and soft drinks.
Sautéed, fried, raw… It’s hard to imagine a meal without onions. Unfortunately, onion is one of the known IBS triggers, on account of being a ‘high FODMAP food’. FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates that aggravate IBS symptoms.
The fix: Take celebrity chef Nigella Lawson’s advice and use carrots, celery or green pepper in lieu of onions. This will give your savoury dishes that much-needed base flavour that onion usually provides. Plus, these tasty veggies are all low FODMAP foods that won’t aggravate your IBS symptoms.
Now that you’ve eliminated onion, it’s also time to say goodbye to garlic – if you’re serious about saying goodbye to IBS, that is. This culinary staple is another high FODMAP food, and one of the known IBS triggers.
The fix: There’s no denying it, replacing garlic is a challenge, but food blog Stone Soup recommends substituting it with ginger or chilli to give your dishes some much-needed kick. If you don’t want your guests to notice that missing garlic flavour, try adding cumin, especially when preparing Middle Eastern cuisine.
Lack of exercise
Sorry couch potatoes, your sedentary lifestyle may be contributing to your chronic stomach pain. A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology asked a group of IBS sufferers to increase their level of physical activity for 12 weeks and compared them to a control group. The study found that after just 20-60 minutes of physical activity three to five times a week, nearly half (43%) of the participants in the exercise group saw a significant reduction of symptoms, compared to one quarter (26%) of the control group. In addition, three times as many participants in the control group saw an increase in the severity of their symptoms compared to the exercise group, suggesting a causal link between lack of exercise and IBS symptoms.
The fix: Want to get back in shape but unsure of how to start? Try walking!