IBS Awareness Month

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by Chloe McLeod of Verde Nutrition

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April is IBS awareness month, a month dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  IBS is common condition which impacts approximately 1 in 5 Australians.  Although, this number may be an underestimate given gastrointestinal symptoms aren’t the easiest for some people to talk about – with 60% of Australian’s being uncomfortable discussing gut health with friends/colleagues and 26% of Australian’s being uncomfortable discussing gut health with their GP.  So, let’s look at what IBS is, what we can do to love our gut this IBS awareness month and beyond, and the importance of listening to your gut!

What is IBS?

IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that is characterised by symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, abdominal pain, excessive wind and nausea.  Some people with IBS may experience one or two of the above symptoms, others may experience all of them.  IBS can occur at any age, and typically occurs more commonly in women than in men.  There are various factors which can cause or contribute to IBS including stress, diet, infection, intestinal motility (speed of digestion) and gut microbiota (our gut bacteria). 

What can we do to love our gut?

When you love your gut, it’ll love you back!  There are a range of steps we can take to support and love our gut, to help manage symptoms of IBS.  Some of these include:

  • Manage stress levels. This one is sometimes easier said than done, however, managing stress can play a key role in supporting gut health.  Individuals with IBS have been shown to have higher levels of depression and anxiety, compared to those without IBS.  Some stress management strategies which may be beneficial include exercise (particularly yoga), meditation, and breathing exercises.
  • Eat more plants! Research shows eating more than 30 different plant foods per week is associated with a more optimal gut microbiome.  When we talk about plant foods this includes fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Limit ultra-processed foods. Excess consumption of ultra-processed foods such as lollies, chocolate, baked goods, soft drink, and fried foods can have negative impacts on our gut microbiome.  Additionally, some of these foods can trigger IBS symptoms themselves due to their high sugar and/or fat content.  Choose your soul food and enjoy it mindfully, but to love our gut, most of our diet should come from nutritious whole foods.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to improve gastrointestinal symptoms in those with IBS, and support a healthy gut microbiome.  Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy and can participate in regularly.
  • Prioritise sleep. Sleep disturbances are more common amongst individuals with IBS, and poor-quality sleep can exacerbate gut symptoms.  Aim to include 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.

Listen to your gut

When it comes to managing your health, it’s important to listen to your gut.  It can be normal to experience gut symptoms occasionally (e.g. looser stools after eating a richer meal), but any new or regular symptoms should be reviewed by your GP as a first point of call.  If you experience any symptoms of IBS such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, or abdominal pain regularly – see your GP to investigate further.  It’s important to rule out serious health conditions such as coeliac disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), before attributing symptoms to IBS.


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