Did you know that April is IBS awareness month in Canada? Although people are starting to hear more about IBS, I truly think this is an underdog of a condition. With over 5 million Canadians suffering from IBS, we have one of the highest rates of IBS in the world. And I find there is little support out there for those suffering from it. Let’s start with the facts…
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a functional gut disorder that affects both:
- Motility: how food moves through the digestive system AND
- Sensitivity: how the brain interprets signals coming from the bowel
The word “motility” refers to how food moves through the gut, which is controlled by muscle contractions along the intestines. In people with IBS, the rhythm and coordination of these muscle contractions may be affected. This altered muscle function can cause diarrhea (food moving too quickly) or constipation (food moving too slowly), which can also lead to spasms and pain.
Another difference in people with IBS is in the network of nerves around the digestive system which communicate with the brain and can be especially sensitive. This means that these nerves can be triggered by even the slightest change in intestinal activity, sending messages to the brain causing abdominal pain.
Symptoms of IBS
IBS is classified as involving abdominal pain and/or discomfort along with a change in bowel habits. Although, not everyone experiences these, IBS can also include constipation, diarrhea, gas, stomach rumbling, distention, and bloating. It’s very clear – these symptoms can be quite embarrassing, especially when you are at work, running errands, or around friends. Because these symptoms are embarrassing, it can feel uncomfortable or awkward to talk about. Thus, so many of us suffer from these life-changing symptoms in silence. I hope that by raising awareness about IBS, people feel more comfortable talking about this, seeking help, and getting on the road to recovery!
Causes of IBS
Although researchers don’t know the exact cause of IBS, they do believe that it may be caused by several factors. In my practice and in research, some people seem to develop IBS following a disruption of the gastrointestinal tract – such as an infection, food poisoning, traveller’s diarrhea, surgery, a change in diet, or the use of antibiotics or a new medication. In others, imbalances throughout the body can contribute to the development of IBS. These imbalances can include – intestinal bacteria, hormones, immune signalling in the bowel wall, or neurotransmitters. Stress and anxiety are also very large factors in IBS and can be involved in the onset and ongoing symptoms of the condition.
IBS and IBD
IBS shouldn’t be confused with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disorder), which is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes swelling and sores in the bowel. There are also a variety of other digestive disorders that could be causing you distress. To learn more about digestive health and other conditions, visit to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation’s website here.
There may also be a malfunction along the many different pathways that connect the brain and the gut that leads to problems with how the brain receives and processes information from the intestines.
Sounds super fun, doesn’t it? If you or someone you love suffers from IBS, you know this isn’t fun at all. It can be very debilitating. As you can see, IBS is quite complicated and although we don’t know a lot about the causes, one thing we do know for sure is that everybody is unique! There are many different factors that can aggravate your IBS symptoms and these can be different for everyone. Some of these triggers can include certain foods, medications, emotional stress, and hormone fluctuations.
Some foods that are particularly bothersome include:
- Carbonated drinks
- Fatty foods
We really believe most individuals will benefit from working with a Registered Dietitian to help get their symptoms under control. Since being diagnosed with IBS in 2007 and building the step-by-step system that has helped me and thousands of my clients drastically improve their symptoms, it has become my passion to help others with IBS get their life back! I know how much of a struggle it can be, but also how good it feels to finally be yourself again. I’m happy to help my friend, you’re not alone.
Much love & good digesting,