Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder characterised by the presence of a number of symptoms that include tummy cramping, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
The exact cause for IBS is unknown, but researches have shown that it may be caused by:
- Having a sensitive gut
- Disruption in brain-gut interaction
- Prolong psychological stress
- Previous bowel infection
IBS can potentially affect a person's quality of life because it is a painful and debilitating condition.
Worldwide, IBS affects 1 in 5 people and is twice more prevalent in women than in men. The prevalence of IBS in Malaysia is approximately 16%. However, the numbers may be higher than that due to underreporting and misdiagnose.
The common triggers of IBS vary from person to person. It includes certain foods such as chocolate, spices, cabbage, cauliflower and others. Stress and previous bowel infection can be risk factors for the development of IBS.
5 Tips for Better Gut Health
Managing IBS is a life-long struggle but practising a Good Gut Health can help to alleviate your condition and improve digestive health system.
1. Practice a Smart Gut Diet
Any healthy diet should apply the principles of 'BMV'; eat a Balanced diet with Moderate portions that contain a Variety of foods from different food groups. Choose to add more fiber into your diet because it helps improve bowel movement. You can get your daily dose of fiber from foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans and whole grains. Eat at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits every day. Additionally, you can look into probiotics as a source of replenishing and balancing good bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are found in foods such as tempeh, kimchi, miso soup, yoghurt, and cultured milk drinks. They can help break down foods so it becomes more easily digestible. Try to avoid fatty and oily foods as those are harder to digest and can cause tummy pain and give you a bloated feeling.
2. Walk it Out, Be More Active
Exercise allows your body to absorb nutrients more effectively and improves blood flow throughout the body, which includes the digestive system and hence make it easier for food to travel in the digestive tract.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercises 5 times a week or most days of the week.
Examples of moderate intensity exercises include:
- Brisk walking
- General gardening (e.g. raking, digging, hoeing)
At the same time, avoid bad habits like smoking or excessive drinking as these habits may affect your gut from functioning normally.
3. Stress Less and Sleep Right
Patients with IBS may also experience feelings of depression and anxiety. In order to avoid this, make sure to get at least 7 hours of good quality sleep every day. You should also try to reduce stress by practising the stress management techniques, which can also improve the symptoms of IBS:
- Breathing exercises
- Do something enjoyable which relaxes you (e.g. movie, music, holidaying, hobbies)
- Hypnotherapy (hypnosis)
- Talking to a therapist or counsellor
4. Maintain Healthy Body Weight
When you are able to practice a healthy lifestyle (good diet and plenty of physical activity) you are also working your way to maintaining a healthy weight. People who are obese and overweight are more likely to suffer from digestive health disorders. A healthy weight ensures your gut is in optimal working condition and it helps improve your self-esteem because you look and feel good about yourself.
5. Go for Regular Health Screening
If a doctor can detect your condition early, steps can be taken to help you immediately manage or control the associated symptoms before it manifests out of hand. Medications such as anti-diarrhoeal agent, anti-depressants and laxatives may also be prescribed and showed some success to treat various symptoms in IBS.
By practising these tips, you can prevent IBS, and even if you have it, you should be able to live a normal, full and active life if you go for early medical checkup, so never give up trying. After all, positive changes in your lifestyle can have profound health effects on your digestive system and your whole body in general. So stop giving excuses to justify the delay and make that change today!