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I like to move it move it

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects approximately one in five people here, according to Singhealth’s website.

When you experience abdominal discomforts, bloating after eating a particular food, alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhoea, or a sensation of incomplete bowel clearance, you may have irritable bowel syndrome.

These symptoms are very real, though not life-threatening, and it is not exactly clear how an individual develops IBS.

Psychological, hormonal, genetic and stress factors all play a part, say researchers, as may food intolerance, yeast overgrowth in the intestine, overly sensitive nerves in the bowels and even inadequate rest.

While there is no one effective cure that fits everyone, simple modifications in your dietary and lifestyle habits can support your digestive system and may keep symptoms of IBS under control.

Eat to Ease

The basic idea is to eliminate foods that can aggravate your intestines and eat foods that are helpful with symptom relief. As symptoms vary from one person to the next, it may take a while to figure out what works for you.

Keep a journal to record when symptoms occur, what you ate during that time, and the activities and emotions you underwent, as these will help identify troublesome foods and determine an appropriate plan of action.

Consume meals on a regular, consistent schedule to establish a routine. When eating, chew your food well and avoid gulping too quickly as you could swallow excess air, which results in wind and bloating. And, eat little, but often – large meals cause the bowel to become overly distended and hyperactive.

It is also important to drink lots of water to move faecal matter along your digestive tract or rehydrate your body after diarrhoea.

The table below is a rough guide to what helps and what you shouldn’t eat. Foods high in saturated fat, certain sugars and gas-producing vegetables and legumes can irritate a sensitive gut and trigger IBS.

Probiotics Pacify

In your gut, there are good and bad bacteria that help regulate bowel movements. If you provide your intestines with more of the good bacteria to fight the bad bacteria, they can help to calm a gastrointestinal tract stressed by IBS and reduce your discomfort.

Probiotics from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families are beneficial in boosting good bacteria. These living microorganisms produce substances called bacteriocins that kill foreign bacteria and prevent bad bacteria from attaching to the walls of your intestines, tilting your intestinal microbial health balance.

You can increase your intake of probiotics by eating fermented foods such as plain yoghurt, tempeh and miso. There are also different drink and dietary supplements containing probiotics available in the market that can enhance your gut flora.

Plus, probiotics are most effective when taken in combination with prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that encourage the growth and activity of probiotics. Specific soluble fibres have a prebiotic effect and are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, including asparagus, artichokes and bananas.

Fibre Facilitates

Fibre is beneficial for relieving both constipation and diarrhoea by promoting the wavelike contractions that move food through the intestines. Furthermore, a diet rich in fibre produces large, soft and bulky stools. More bulk means less pressure in the colon, so it is easier to pass without straining.

Make soluble fibre foods the largest component of your meals. Include a variety such as oatmeal, barley, soy, potatoes, yams, beans and whole grains.

Always choose soluble fibre first over insoluble fibre whenever your stomach is empty. Unlike soluble fibre, which forms a gel when dissolved in water, insoluble fibre remains largely unchanged throughout the digestive process.

Soluble fibre has a remarkable bonus of normalising colonic activity from either extreme – its gel consistency gives colon muscles something to grip easily during contractions, thus preventing the rapid transit time and explosive bowel movements of diarrhoea, but allowing a faster and smoother transit time during constipation.

Alternative Healthy Habits

There are several non-traditional therapies that may help improve symptoms of IBS:

Regular exercise helps relieve depression and stress, and stimulates normal contractions of your intestines so you feel better about yourself. Try to get about 15-30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. If you have been inactive for some time, start slowly before gradually increasing the intensity and duration. Another option would be to practise yoga, meditation or deep breathing, which can significantly reduce stress-related attacks.

Herbs like peppermint is a natural antispasmodic that relaxes the smooth gut muscles and alleviates stomach cramping.

Peppermint can be taken in tea, oil, herb or capsule form. Studies have also suggested that turmeric can help ease digestive problems, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to block abnormal muscle contractions. However, before taking any herbs, remember to check with your doctor to make sure they won’t interact or interfere with other medications and drugs you may be taking.

Finally, having enough sleep is valuable because it raises your capacity to handle stress so you are less susceptible to attacks.

Embarrassing Gut Issue?

Granted, living with IBS presents daily challenges, but you can learn to cope with your condition by managing your diet, lifestyle and stress with the right attitude and correct food choices! LW

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