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How to Improve Gut Health with IBS

Feature, Gut Health & IBS | May 27, 2019

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Treatment for IBS

So many of our patients have struggled for years to feel healthy with IBS symptoms. They come to see our team of IBS dietitians to get a healthier gut and put an end to their digestive woes.

At Ignite Nutrition, we have developed a system of treatment for IBS called the 4 Pillar Approach for Gut Health™. Patients with IBS symptoms can get a healthy gut!

When research is done properly, there is always only 1 intervention. However, we KNOW real life isn’t a research project. At Ignite, we have combined the most up-to-date evidence. With our expertise on digestive disorders, we have developed a plan that can be specifically tailored to your digestive issues. Helping you with the basics of IBS management, so you get feeling better FAST.

Our 4 Pillar Approach for Gut Health™ includes:

  1. The Nutrition Pillar
  2. The Lifestyle Pillar
  3. The Medication Pillar
  4. The Gut-Brain Connection Pillar

Today we’ll review these 4 pillars and give you some actionable steps to improve each one. Let’s get started!

4 pineapples lined up in a row on a grey background with a banner at the top that reads "How to Improve Gut Health with IBS"

The Nutrition Pillar

As registered dietitians, we definitely believe in the power of food! At Ignite Nutrition, we see that the majority of our IBS patients prefer to manage their IBS symptoms through lifestyle changes first and then add medications if necessary. While there is nothing wrong with pharmacological therapy, our goal is to take a food first approach to see if we can reduce the need for medications. Especially since they can be costly and are not without side effects.

People with IBS often have a difficult time digesting certain types of carbohydrates that we refer to as FODMAPs. When we can’t effectively digest these carbohydrates, they either pull water into the gut, or the bacteria in the gut ferment them. This leads to increased gassiness, bloating, abdominal pain, and/or changes in bowel habits. Plus, people with IBS often have a sensation called visceral hypersensitivity. Which is essentially perceiving normal digestion as abnormal and painful. No, that doesn’t mean IBS symptoms are “all in your head”, but rather that gut-to-brain communication getting misinterpreted!

What is the low FODMAP diet?

The low FODMAP diet is a 2-6 week elimination style diet. Though we prefer to think of it as a ‘swap this for that’. Following elimination, we strategically reintroduce to see which and how much FODMAPs you tolerate. This allows us to develop a long-term plan. Which we call a ‘modified low FODMAP diet’. Where you can consume FODMAPs, but we watch the overall amounts. This should be done under the supervision of a doctor or registered dietitian who specializes in digestive health. To ensure the process is done correctly. This allows us to tailor the recommendations to you! Based on your IBS symptoms we may tweak the diet so that it’s the least restrictive version possible. To get YOU IBS symptom control.

This is only ONE dietary strategy we use in treatment for IBS. However, it is the MOST common. Working with one of our gut health dietitians will help to develop tailored dietary strategies for you in the long term.

The Lifestyle Pillar

The term ‘lifestyle’ is broad and can encompass many different aspects of life, so what exactly does this pillar mean? This is the pillar where things that are not dietary and also not pharmacological would fit. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important! In particular, adequate exercise, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome are BIG contributors to a healthy gut. These are the main aspects of the lifestyle pillar.

How to improve your gut microbiome

Our intestines are the home of billions of bacteria. They play a role not only in our digestion, but in our immune function, and chronic disease development. To promote good gut health, we want to do everything we can to foster a healthy microbiota. We want to build the community of “good” gut bacteria!

Our good gut bugs are called probiotics. To improve our microbiota’s function, we can take additional probiotics in supplement form. This can also help improve IBS symptoms and foster a healthy gut microbiota.

When it comes to choosing a probiotic supplement, we want to choose the right types of bacteria, for the right person, for the right reason.

Not all brands and bacterial strains work for everyone! However, certain strains have been shown to improve IBS symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, and gut motility. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian about the best options for your IBS symptoms specifically.

Probiotic supplements may be a helpful treatment for IBS symptoms. But, most importantly, we want to take care of the bacteria already living in our gut. Our gut bacteria feed on fibre from the foods we eat. So, eating the right high fibre foods can keep them alive and thriving!

To boost fibre intake in your diet, be gradual and intentional; adding too much or the wrong kinds may be equally as uncomfortable as not having enough. Foods with fibre include plant-based foods – vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Start by adding 1-2 more fibre-rich foods in your diet every few days. Your registered dietitian can tailor your fibre plan to you. In treatment for IBS, many high fibre foods may be triggers for your IBS symptoms. In this case, we often use specialized fibre supplements to hit those fibre targets to begin with. Then we focus on getting fibre from food after reintroduction of FODMAPs.

Exercise for IBS treatment

Evidence also suggests that specific types of exercise, particularly aerobic activity (think walking, running, swimming, or cycling) can benefit our gut health. Although we still have lots to learn about the influence of fitness on our gut bacteria, it looks very promising. Getting moving is also a great way to relieve stress and get out in nature!

Sleep for IBS treatment

Lastly, sleep is also an influential factor when it comes to symptom outcomes for IBS treatment. Although there are limited studies on the influence of sleep on the GI tract, without adequate length and quality of sleep, it is difficult to prioritize other lifestyle and nutrition goals for a healthy gut. Not only do we feel lethargic without proper rest, but it can significantly impact our motivation to exercise, cook, socialize, and more!

The Medication Pillar

Medication often gets a bad reputation. And yes, there are drugs that can actually worsen IBS symptoms depending on each individual. If you take medications that may be causing side effects that worsen IBS symptoms, it is best to discuss them with your family doctor or gastroenterologist.

There are also many medications that can be a great companion to lifestyle and diet changes. As mentioned earlier, some people simply need extra help from medications, which is totally valid! At the end of the day, the goal is to improve your quality of life.

However, medication is not a cure to IBS, but rather a band-aid solution. Therefore, it is also important to determine the underlying cause and subsequently treat that cause! This is one of the main reasons we take a “food first” approach at Ignite Nutrition. There are times where food first may not be appropriate, or we may need additional medication on top of dietary interventions. At Ignite, our IBS dietitians will advocate for the right medications for you. We work alongside your physician or gastroenterologist to get the right treatments for you!

What makes our team unique is, over 75% of our patient cases are for IBS treatment. We have literally seen it ALL. This makes us the perfect IBS dietitians to advocate for your care. We have plenty of experience with patients on a wide variety of medications. So, we can help determine & advocate for which is best for you.

The Gut-Brain Connection Pillar

Above we talked about gut-to-brain communication. Just like the gut talks to the brain, the brain also talks to the gut – the two are constantly communicating. Some people even call our gut the second brain because it has so many neurons! Therefore, if the message being sent from the brain to the gut is negative – ie. stress, anxiety, negative self-talk, etc. – we can have worse digestive symptoms as a result.

Sure, almost everyone experiences stress in their lives and it’s nearly impossible to just be stress-free all the time. However, consistent and chronic high levels of stress can lead to negative physiological reactions in the body, especially the gut. Even ‘good stress’ can be a trigger. There’s a reason we call it a “gut feeling!” This can manifest itself in the form of altered gut motility as well as increased gut sensations and pain.

We see that many of our patients coming for IBS treatment have some element of psychological or emotional distress. Sometimes small, but still significant! For example, even the fear of eating a “trigger food” could be enough to worsen IBS symptoms! Or the ever-present worry of knowing where the nearest bathroom is just in case. Sometimes this can lead to a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy – we worry it will happen, and then it does. But is it the food, or the fear itself?

It is important to find stress management and mindfulness techniques that are practical and easy to implement. These IBS management strategies can improve the interaction between the brain and the gut and ultimately improve IBS symptom response.

How to improve the gut brain connection for IBS treatment:

  • Slowing down before meals – Try taking 5 deep belly breaths before digging in!
  • Guided Meditation
  • Reading
  • Journaling – Writing down thoughts and feelings helps us to reflect on them
  • Eliminating distractions at meal times – turn off televisions, phones, and computers

Keep in mind, everyone’s mindfulness journey will look a bit different. While not every strategy will be your cup of tea, it is more important to regularly include something to reduce stress in your routine. This list of suggestions is not exhaustive – there are many different options! Additionally, if you have unresolved trauma or grief (or simply want more support) it is best to work with a psychologist or counsellor. Talk to your registered dietitian about your options.

Key messages for IBS treatment

To conclude, IBS is a complicated condition. There are many factors to consider to improve your gut health and treat IBS. All the information out there on gut health and IBS treatment can certainly feel overwhelming. So, taking a team approach is highly recommended.

You can also work with one of our registered dietitians to be supported in your IBS treatment. As well as how to build and maintain a healthy microbiome! We will help to tailor a plan for you. Incorporating the 4 pillars for the treatment of IBS to get you feeling better fast.

4 pineapples lined up in a row on a grey background with a banner at the top that reads "How to Improve Gut Health with IBS"

FAQs about IBS treatment

What is the most effective treatment for IBS?

At Ignite, we have combined the most up-to-date evidence to develop an effective treatment plan for IBS. This includes managing nutrition, lifestyle, medication and the gut-brain connection.

How do I get rid of IBS permanently?

Although there is no known cure for IBS, there are many treatment options for IBS management. We want to choose the right IBS treatment plan, for the right person, for the right reason.

Do probiotics help IBS?

When it comes to choosing a probiotic supplement to help with IBS treatment, we want to choose the right types of bacteria, for the right person, for the right reason. It is recommended to discuss these options with a registered dietitian or gastroenterologist.

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