Monday, February 23, 2009

Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Do you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS? IBS is a collection of symptoms that cause physical pain and emotional stress. The main symptoms of IBS are commonly characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Women are at least twice as likely to experience IBS as men. Due to fluctuating levels of hormones, women are more likely to experience IBS symptoms during or around the time of their menstrual periods. Younger to middle-aged adults are most likely to experience IBS. In fact, half of all people with IBS will first develop symptoms before they are 35 years old, with 90% of IBS sufferers developing symptoms before age 50.

Some experts believe that IBS may be caused by a bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal tract. But other health conditions that can cause IBS symptoms include: celiac disease (intolerance of gluten from grains), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia (widespread bodily pain), and temporomandibular disorder (jaw pain and discomfort). In addition, psychological conditions, such as panic disorder, depression and anxiety have been associated with IBS and gastrointestinal distress.

Serotonin (a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages in the body) can affect IBS symptoms. Ninety-five percent of the body's serotonin is located in the gastrointestinal tract. If levels of this important neurotransmitter are off balance, bowels problems and IBS symptoms can result.

Some people’s bowels are just more sensitive. Although you can’t change the sensitivity level of your large intestine, you can learn what commonly triggers your IBS symptoms, and try to avoid these triggers.

Eating small, frequent meals actually decreases your risk of experiencing IBS symptoms. In contrast, being overweight, eating certain "trigger" foods (such as alcohol, barley, caffeine, chocolate, coffee, milk products, rye, soda, and tea), eating large meals, taking certain medications, being overly stressed and lack of physical activity can contribute to symptoms. Learn more about Eating With Irritable Bowel Symptoms.

Individuals with IBS should slowly increase their fiber to 25-35 grams per day by including a variety of grains such as wheat, rye, barley, oat, farro, kamut, couscous, soy and quinoa. Always eat soluble fiber first, whenever your stomach is empty. Make soluble fiber foods the largest component of every meal and snack. Foods rich in soluble fiber include: oatmeal, pasta, rice, potatoes, French bread, sourdough bread, soy products, barley and oat bran. Never eat insoluble fiber on an empty stomach, in large quantities at one sitting, or without soluble fiber. Foods rich in insoluble fiber include: wheat bran, whole grain products and whole wheat products.

Gentle, moderate and/or mind-body workouts like yoga, stretching, Pilates and walking are some of the best exercises for someone with IBS because they help reduce physical and mental stress. Yoga encourages deep, rhythmic breathing; stretching reduces the production of stress hormones; and Pilates connects the mind, body, and spirit, which can help you manage stress more effectively. High-intensity exercise can actually increase the body's stress response, so it's a good idea to keep your exercise intensity moderate.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are several complementary and alternative therapies that may be very effective at treating IBS. Research has shown meditation, psychotherapy, exercise, acupuncture, hypnotherapy and nutritional supplements to be effective.

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