Do you feel 6 months pregnant by the end of the day or experience embarrassing flatulence but can't fix the problem?

A surprisingly large percentage of the population suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies report 10 – 20% of adults will be victims to IBS and twice as common amongst females.  Quite often these people are left with no explanation of why or how to improve their horrible uncomfortable symptoms. Symptoms will usually vary from abdominal pain, constipation and or diarrhea, bloating and flatulence. 

So what causes IBS and why are there so many people suffering from IBS?

This is a difficult question to answer. The digestive system is quite complex and IBS still remains poorly understood. There could be several reasons causing your symptoms and I do always recommend further examination to identify the true cause. 

There is one well recognized method to manage IBS...this is through food choices. Although it's important to know that food isn't the cause of IBS. People will react to food components as a result of altered microflora, reduced enzymes, visceral hypersensitivity, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or possibly something else. There're several different types of diets you can go on to improve your digestive health and not one diet fits all. Although one diet that has gain a lot of talk and hype in recent years for IBS symptomatic relief is FODMAPs. You may have heard people talk about FODMAPs and wonder what it is. 

"one diet that has gain a lot of talk and hype in recent years for IBS symptomatic relief is FODMAPs"

FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di and Mono-saccharides and Polyols, short-chain carbohydrates. These short-chain carbohydrates, sugars, are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. When these undigested sugars reach the large intestine two things happen. They are fermented by bacteria causing gas, bloating and pain and additional water is drawn to the large bowel causing increased bowel movements, diahorrea. 

Oligosaccharides are fructans and galato-oligosaccharides. Humans do not have the enzyme to breakdown oligosaccharides, so they're unable to be digested. People with IBS will often struggle with these foods. Common foods are artichokes, asparagus, beets, brussels sprouts, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, garlic, onions, leeks, peas, lentils, legumes, apples, peaches and many more. 

Polysols are sugar alcohols that are absorbed across the intestinal barrier very slowly. Common foods are apricots, apples, cherries, pears, plums, peaches, watermelon, avocado, cauliflower, snow peas, mushrooms, xylitol and artificial sweeteners. 

Lactose is a disaccharide. Lactose is only an issue when there are low levels of lactase, the enzyme. Common foods include milk, yoghurt, ice cream, soft cheese and custard. 

Most people suffering from IBS will be advised to go onto a low FODMAP diet. With a large percentage of people noticing dramatic improvements. You can remain on a low FODMAP diet for an extended period of time, however I would recommend considering using slippery elm to assist with fibre intake and a probiotic for optimal digestion. 

Often people will be sensitive to only particular foods. To discover the foods (components) causing you grief it's recommended to do an elimination diet. Initially you will need to cut out all FODMAPs. After a period of time, around 2 - 4 weeks, you will need to slowly introduce certain foods. I would advise you to do this alongside a qualified nutritionist as it can be quite challenging. 

To assist you with meal ideas visit our recipes for FODMAP. 

Sarah Stewart