From sleep to stress to periods, many things can play a role in IBS symptoms. Abi Jackson learns more from the experts.
Most people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a list of foods that tend to trigger symptoms.
What triggers IBS flare-ups can vary from person to person, whether it’s spicy snack foods, too much wheat, dairy, yeast, or FODMAPs (short-chain carbohydrates/sugars recognized as common culprits in IBS) – leading to bouts of abdominal cramps , diarrhea, constipation, bloating and excess gas.
But the food isn’t the only thing to consider. There are a whole host of other factors that could play a role in IBS…
1. Certain medications
Whether medications affect IBS varies widely, says Dr. Subashini M, Director of Science, Health and Wellness at Holland & Barrett (hollandandbarrett.com). “You can also find that one formulation of a drug may cause problems but not another because the irritable bowel syndrome may not be triggered by the drug but by other additives.”
However, some medications are better known for causing IBS problems, including tricyclic antidepressants and opiates used to relieve pain (“these tend to cause constipation, which can make IBS worse”), SSRI antidepressants (which “can cause diarrhea”), and antibiotics . “These can make IBS worse through side effects like constipation or diarrhea, but also because they can kill both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in our gut,” notes Subashini M.
If you think prescribed medications are making your irritable bowel syndrome worse, it’s important not to stop taking them without your doctor’s advice. “If your symptoms are difficult to deal with, go back and ask if there are any alternatives,” says Subashini M, who suggests taking probiotics in addition — and “for at least four weeks” afterward in the case of antibiotics — can help.
“Studies suggest that high alcohol consumption, particularly binge drinking, is associated with an increase in IBS symptoms,” says Subashini M.
As well as looking at how much alcohol you’re consuming, you can “choose low-FODMAP alcoholic beverages as they may have less of an impact on your irritable bowel syndrome” (but remember to consider blenders if you’re opting for spirits decide). . “Drinking water to stay hydrated while drinking alcohol, eating when drinking, and moving about while drinking might also help,” she adds.
3. Stress and Anxiety
Our gut and brain are closely connected, so it’s no surprise that stress can play a big part in irritable bowel syndrome. “IBS causes disruptions in the balance between the brain and gut, with stress and anxiety sometimes triggering overactivity of the gut, leading to diarrhea and stomach torsion,” explains Dr. Luke Powles, Clinical Director at Bupa Health Clinics (bupa.co.uk). – and it’s a one-way street.
“While stress and anxiety can trigger irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome can also trigger anxiety and stress — especially if you’re concerned about experiencing symptoms socially or at work.”
Relatable? If you suffer from intense or ongoing stress, think about where it’s coming from. “Once you know what your stressors are, there are steps you can take to cope and deal with them,” says Powles. “A good place to start is to make sure you exercise, you can also try meditation and yoga, focus on deep breathing, [and] Try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night.” Talking to a doctor about this can also help.
4. Poor sleep
“IBS has also been linked to lower sleep quality,” says Subashini M — though she points out there’s limited research on exactly how they’re related. It could be a “correlation” rather than simple cause and effect. For example, poor sleep is also linked to depression and high levels of stress – both possible factors in IBS too.
When you’re struggling with flare-ups of IBS, it’s a good idea to address sleep issues. Subashini M suggests that “even simple sleep-improving measures, such as regular sleep and good sleep hygiene,” could help.
“Many people find that their IBS symptoms worsen during their period. Although more research is needed on this link, changing hormones is believed to affect the GI tract,” says Powles.
What should I do? “Matching your diet around your menstrual cycle so you avoid gassy foods like beans and lentils, broccoli, asparagus, pears and onions can help through the worst of your days,” suggests Powles. “Use a hot water bottle to relieve pain from both menstrual and IBS cramps.”
6. Eating too fast or on the go
“Eating in a hurry can mean you might not be chewing your food enough, resulting in large chunks of food in your stomach that are harder to digest and can cause gas, gas, or belching,” explains Powles. “Enzymes in our saliva are really important to start breaking down food, so chew all food well before swallowing it.”
You could also gulp more air if you eat too quickly or on the go, which doesn’t help matters. “Try to take your time with your food and sit up straight at a table rather than hunched over your desk or balancing your plate on your knees to aid in digestion,” adds Powles.
7. A very sedentary lifestyle
When digestive issues flare up, exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing — but aiming for an overall active lifestyle might help. “It’s recommended for people with irritable bowel syndrome to exercise regularly, both for mental health and well-being, and because exercise can help food, waste, and air move through your digestive system,” says Powles.
“Try to incorporate gentle exercise like yoga, swimming, walking, or jogging into your daily routine about three to five times a week.”