Irritable bowel syndrome is a digestive condition that many people deal with; around as many as 45 million people just in the United States. It is the most common digestive complaint in doctor’s offices, with about 1 in 3 patients diagnosed with it. IBS can cause people to call in to work sick if the symptoms they are experiencing are severe enough. So, what exactly is IBS, and is it okay for those with IBS to follow a plant-based lifestyle? We will be taking the time to answer these questions in this article.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS for short, is a gastrointestinal condition that can affect both the stomach and the small and large intestines. IBS is often a chronic condition, so any symptoms will likely have to be learned how to manage for the long term. Thankfully, symptoms are often not too severe, but some people do deal with severe symptoms now and then. Some common ways to help manage IBS symptoms include eating a lighter, healthier diet, living an overall healthier lifestyle, and finding ways to manage stress. If you experience severe symptoms, ways to address them might involve prescription medication or health counseling. Even though it may feel like your insides are on fire or are falling apart, IBS does not affect the tissue within your gastrointestinal system, and it does not increase one’s risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
What Are The Symptoms Of IBS?
Likely, one person with IBS will not experience the same symptoms as someone else with IBS. Some people may also experience more severe symptoms than others. In certain conditions, symptoms can get worse – this often occurs because of stressful situations or eating foods that trigger IBS symptoms. Some signs may also seem to disappear after having a bowel movement.
Common symptoms that are experienced with IBS include pain or cramping in the abdominal area, diarrhea or constipation, a bloated stomach, more flatulence than usual, and sometimes suddenly feeling the need to use the bathroom. Other symptoms that are not as common include fatigue, nausea, and heartburn. Since IBS symptoms can significantly change someone’s daily routine, two other potential symptoms that could come about because of IBS are bad mood and higher levels of stress.
Why Do I Have IBS?
There is not one specific reason why some people develop irritable bowel syndrome, and others do not. Some factors that could cause IBS to develop include how the intestinal muscles contract, the working of the nervous system, if you’ve had a nasty infection, experiencing chronic stress starting at a young age, and an alteration in the gut microbiome. Suppose your intestinal contractions are more robust and last longer than these types of contractions usually should. In that case, this could be causing gas, bloating, or diarrhea. On the other hand, if the intestinal contractions are weak, this can cause constipation, with food staying in the system too long and creating hard, dry stools. If the nerves within your gastrointestinal system are not functioning correctly, this can cause discomfort while food is digesting. If the nerves overreact, this can cause cramping, diarrhea, or constipation. Suppose you’ve had a severe gastrointestinal infection. In that case, gastroenteritis can develop, which can cause an overabundance of bacteria to locate themselves in the intestines. People who experience a lot of stress, especially starting during their childhood, often get diagnosed with IBS later in life. Lastly, the gut microbiome can change, having more or less bacteria, fungi, or viruses present, which can impact intestinal health and lead to irritable bowel syndrome.
Foods That Can Trigger IBS Symptoms
There are five recommended foods to avoid if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. These are milk, foods that contain a large amount of fructose, carbonated drinks, caffeine, and sugar-free chewing gum. Lactose is the culprit in dairy products that can lead to bloating and gas in those with IBS. However, dairy is the exception to this rule, as the live cultures within the yogurt help to break down the lactose, so it won’t be as likely to lead to gastrointestinal problems. Foods that contain high fructose corn syrup often lead to bloating in those with IBS. The fruits highest in fructose, such as pears, apples, and dried fruits, should be avoided, as they can also cause IBS symptoms. It is best to avoid any drinks that contain carbonation, as the bubbly effect can cause discomfort. With caffeine, it is more likely to cause diarrhea in those with irritable bowel syndrome. Lastly, sugar-free chewing gums can cause diarrhea and cause you to be gassier due to the higher air intake while chewing the gum.
Following A Plant-Based Diet With IBS
While a plant-based diet is highly beneficial for one’s health, no proof has been shown in studies that consuming more plant-based foods will help ease IBS symptoms. Depending on the fruits and vegetables consumed, this diet could make IBS symptoms worse. A higher consumption of fermentable carbohydrates, or FODMAPS, often causes this. However, incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet can improve your gut microbiome, leading to better health. If you can find plant-based foods that do not trigger your IBS symptoms, then the plant-based diet can be a great one to follow. Just make sure not to jump right into this diet – go slowly and try a couple of foods at a time so you can monitor how you feel and any symptoms you experience with those items.
Treatments For IBS
The best treatment currently available for those with IBS is to relieve symptoms as much as possible so you can live your life without suffering those symptoms daily. The best rules to follow are to avoid your trigger foods, ensure you are getting a lot of fiber, keep yourself well hydrated, live a physical lifestyle, and get enough sleep every night. Overall, managing your stress and living a healthy lifestyle can likely control any mild IBS symptoms you experience. Your healthcare practitioner may have some avoidance recommendations for you, including foods that will likely cause gas and bloating (especially alcoholic and carbonated drinks), gluten, and those FODMAPS discussed earlier, which are specific grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that can ferment in the gastrointestinal system. Some over-the-counter medications to try if the previous changes don’t work for you include fiber supplements, laxatives, and anti-diarrheal medications.
Choosing a healthy plant-based and vegan diet is most beneficial when it comes to:
Higher levels of energy;
Aids in energy and overall happiness;
Provides a sense of comfort and relief;
Could prevent major diseases such as obesity and diabetes;
Accomplish weight-loss and management; and
Improves mental and cognitive functioning.
There are really no excuses not to try healthier habits in your everyday life. If you are a man or woman looking for specific benefits of adopting healthier habits or just want to know about the general healing properties of herbs. Please remember to comment or post any health questions, or contact us directly!
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Hall, C. (2022, April 14). Following a plant-based diet whilst having IBS. British Dietetic Association.
Hudepohl, D. (2023, September 24). Irritable bowel syndrome: What to know about IBS. Forks Over Knives.
N.d. (2023, May 12). Irritable bowel syndrome. Mayo Clinic.
N.d. (N.d.). 5 foods to avoid if you have IBS. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
N.d. (N.d.). Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). NHS Inform.