Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) refers to a disturbance in bowel function that does not carry any physical change. An estimated 10% of the population are affected by IBS in Singapore. This condition has typical symptoms such as intermittent abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation and a feeling of urgency to empty your bowels. They can be extremely troublesome and affects one’s quality of life, such as losing the ability to concentrate at work and limiting the ability to enjoy a social life when the symptoms occur.It is best to have the diagnosis of IBS confirmed by a doctor instead of self-diagnosing. Your doctor can make proper assessment of your condition, advice on how to manage your symptoms, and prescribe any necessary medication. However, self-management with diet and lifestyle is also key to manage your symptoms.
What You Can Do
- Reduce your intake of rich or oily/fatty foods such as deep-fried foods, fried noodles, fast food, and pastries. It is better if you try to cook at home with fresh ingredients.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Keep a food and symptom diary that can aid you in identifying triggers. Note down what you eat and when is it consumed so you can narrow down the potential food trigger.
- Keep active and get involved in regular exercises.
- Destress and take the time to relax with activities such as yoga, reading, meditation or tai-chi.
- It is important to make one change at a time to keep track on what is working and making a positive impact on your IBS management.
Tips on Managing Different IBS Symptoms
Bloating Gas / Wind
- Limit to having just one small glass of fruit juice per serving (100ml)
- Reduce intake of some gas-producing foods such as mushrooms, cauliflower, beans, apples, pears, sugar-free mints
- Drink plenty of water daily, a recommended 8-10 glasses or 2 litres
- Limit your caffeine drinks intake to 3 cups a day, such as tea and coffee
- Take note of your dietary fibre intake and make adjustments if necessary
- Avoid sugar-free mints, sweets and gum that contain xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol
- Aim for 8 glasses of water and drink plenty daily.
- Gradually increase your fibre intake, and eat more fruit and vegetables as well as wholegrains.
- Oats and linseeds are high in soluble fiber that can aid in making bowel motions easier to pass.
- Add a tablespoon of linseeds to yoghurt, salads and breakfast cereal for easier consumption. Re member to drink plenty of fluids with linseeds.
Using Probiotics & Prebiotics
Probiotics are “good” live bacteria and yeasts that help to keep your gut healthy. While our body is full of bacteria, probiotics can maintain the flora balance and promote a balanced intestinal environment. Prebiotics are basically food for probiotics, they are types of carbohydrates that gut bacteria feed on.
You can try a fermented milk drink, yoghurt or probiotic supplement. Consume them every day for at least 4 weeks and monitor the effects. Consider an alternative brand or stop consuming them if this does not help.
Lactose is the sugar found in milk and we digest it through an enzyme called lactase. The production of lactase usually lessens after weaning and the lack of lactase to break down lactose will lead to fermentation in the bowel which produces gas. It can also cause bloating, wind, nausea and diarrhoea.
If you suspect that lactose is triggering your symptoms, try to use less milk, soft cheese and yoghurt. Replace it with lactose-free milk for 2 to 4 weeks and monitor symptoms – you can return to regular cow’s milk if there is no change. Ensure you still get enough calcium when dairy foods are limited or avoided. Non-dairy milk should be calcium fortified.
The Next Step
If the above-mentioned suggestions do not help your symptoms, you can visit a specialist for IBS and get your condition assessed. You can also take the opportunity to ask on a diet you can try such as low FODMAP diet, a diet that is low in fermentable carbohydrates. It is advisable to follow new dietary recommendations under the guidance of a dietitian with expertise and experience in this area.