Our research* shows 1 in 4 people suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), while more than 4 in 10 people suffer from poor digestion or mild IBS. Mild or severe IBS affects our whole lives - we're 40% more likely to suffer poor skin and hair, more likely to suffer from a lack of energy, focus and concentration, and more likely to experience high or overwhelming stress.
IBS is a collection of a wide range of symptoms from constipation, diarrhoea and insomnia to heart palpitations, muscle aches and much more. Our nutritionists explain the causes of IBS, common and unusual symptoms, treatments and the best supplements for IBS.
What causes IBS?
There are five common causes of IBS.
Sensitivities to foods that are consumed triggers mild inflammation in the gut. This inflammation can interfere with the production of digestive enzymes and the good bacteria in the gut. This can cause gas and bloating, cramping and constipation and / or diarrhoea.
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Insufficient digestive enzymes
Digestive enzymes are essential for the proper breakdown of foods and absorption of nutrients. If there is a deficiency is any digestive enzymes, specific foods may not get broken down effectively, allowing them to become fermented by bacteria, causing gas and bloating.
Any imbalances in the level of bacteria, yeasts or parasites can cause irritation of the gut, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. Probiotics produce digestive enzymes and short chain fatty acids which nourish the gut lining and promotes the normal movement of the gut.
Imbalance in serotonin levels
Serotonin is best known as our 'happy hormone', however it plays many roles in the body, including the normal movement of the gut. Too much serotonin can cause diarrhoea, and too little can cause constipation.
Abnormal intestinal movements
Abnormal intestinal movements can be caused by abnormalities in the nerve and muscle function of the gut and can have a variety of causes, from age-related muscular conditions to sports injuries.
7 Common Symptoms of IBS
These are the most common symptoms of IBS to look out for:
This is an indication of too much yeast in the gut, food intolerances, or a low level of serotonin.
This could indicate parasites in the gut and bad bacteria crowding out good bacteria. It could also be caused by food intolerances or too much serotonin.
3. Bloating & gas
Gas, bloating and digestive discomfort be caused by food sensitivities, a low level of digestive enzymes or stomach acid. It can also be caused by detrimental bacteria or yeasts in the intestines.
This is typically caused by excess gas and a lack of probiotics. Low grade inflammation in the intestines may also make them more sensitive to pain.
5. Urgency to use the loo
This isn't just related to diarrhoea - it can also be due to oversensitive nerves in the gut.
Nausea is a general symptom of gastric distress. It can be triggered by a lack of digestive enzymes or due to food sensitivities.
7. Low moods and anxiety
Lower moods and anxiety are related to an imbalance in serotonin levels. 90% of the serotonin in the brain comes from the gut, so if your gut is unhealthy, it will affect your mood. Discover 5 foods to improve your mood.
Unusual symptoms of IBS
While not so common, the following can all be symptoms of IBS related to low levels of serotonin.
Difficulties sleeping and insomnia
Serotonin plays an important role in our sleep as well as our mood and happiness. Our bodies convert serotonin into melatonin, our sleep hormone. The same low levels of serotonin that could trigger IBS could also be involved in sleep difficulties. Cortisol, our stress hormone, is also a common cause of poor sleep - learn more in 'What is cortisol' and how your diet can help your sleep.
Another role serotonin plays is in our muscle function, and low levels of serotonin can contribute towards muscle aches. A combination of muscle aches, low moods and sleeping difficulties are commonly related to IBS caused by low serotonin.
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Low serotonin levels can also trigger anxiety, which can in turn trigger heart palpitations. Heart palpitations are however also a symptom of low Magnesium - learn more in 'How do I know if I'm deficient in Magnesium'.
Menstruation pain and pain during intercourse
Many women with IBS report a higher level of menstrual pain. This is believed to be due to low serotonin levels because serotonin helps the body to cope with pain, and low levels may increase your feelings of pain. Low grade inflammation in the colon, as well as bloating and an increased sensitivity of the nerves, can all contribute towards painful or uncomfortable intercourse.
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If you're experiencing persistent common or common symptoms of IBS, you should consult your doctor. If your doctor has eliminated the possibility of any underlying factors, there are a few self-help tips to help treat IBS.
Identify and remove food intolerances
This is one of the first steps to take. Keeping a food diary and undertaking an 'Elimination Diet' is the best way to identify foods which your body doesn’t agree with.
Replace digestive enzymes
Taking a probiotic supplement or digestive enzyme and encouraging your natural production of enzymes is another way to improve digestion. Also, think about food before you eat, chew each mouthful up to 30 times and make sure you are not stressed while you eat.
Identify and resolve imbalances in the microbiome
This may require a test to identify what is going on in the gut. Simple measures such as increasing the level of fibre in your diet, and avoiding sugar and refined foods, can make a big difference to the microbiome in your gut.
Optimise nutrient intake
Taking additional supplementation and eating a nutritious and balanced diet can really help with symptoms such as mood and low energy. And ensure you are eating protein and complex carbohydrates with each meal and snack.
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Supplements for IBS
There are a number of supplements which can help with IBS.
Correcting the level of probiotics in the gut is essential for anyone with IBS. Even if you are unable to take a test to look at what bacteria is in your gut, a probiotic supplement can help to correct an imbalance.
Curcumin & Turmeric
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, decreases the level of inflammation in the body, including any low-grade inflammation in the gut that may be contributing towards the symptoms. Learn more in 5 benefits of turmeric.
Milk Thistle, Burdock and Dandelion
Milk thistle, Burdock and Dandelion can stimulate the production of digestive juices which then support the digestion and breakdown of foods. Having the right level of digestive juices may also correct any microbiome imbalances in the gut.
Fennel seeds have a soothing and anti-spasmodic effect on the gut. Fennel seed also has anti-inflammatory properties and promotes the production of digestive juices.
Omega 3 fats help to decrease the level of inflammation on the gut and a Vegan Omega 3 supplement is excellent to take alongside probiotics. Probiotics have a hard time clinging onto the gut wall when there is inflammation, so a reduction in inflammation with omega 3 oil can help to support probiotic numbers in your gut. Learn more in 'What are probiotics?'.
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IBS can be very unpleasant and if left untreated can result in other side effects including nutrient deficiencies that lead to low Iron levels and low energy, and low moods, anxiety and depression as a result of low serotonin, IBS can also cause dehydration from excessive diarrhoea and even excessive or rapid weight loss, where you should see your Doctor as soon as possible.
However these symptoms and side effects are all treatable with changes to your diet, improving your gut health, and where necessary, choosing suitable supplements to relieve IBS and improve gut health.
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* DR.VEGAN research into gut health was conducted among 2,331 adults between August 2021 - January 2022. Nationally representative.
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