With many people leading a face paced, stressful existence our digestion can often be compromised. This means that essential nutrients may not be absorbed properly meaning less raw materials for our bodies to use. This can often can lead to pain, discomfort and chronic digestive disorders. In this post I am going to focus on the disorder I see most in my practice, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder which is categorised by a collection of symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, gas and chronic pain. It is still not known exactly what causes IBS, but research shows that the following areas are not working at their best or are out of balance.
- Gut motility – either too slow or too fast i.e.the rate at which material is moved through the digestive tract
- Unbalanced gut flora – a good variety of beneficial bacteria is needed for optimal gut health
- Hypersensitivity to pain
- Untreated bacterial or viral infections
- Sex hormone and neurotransmitter dysregulation – chemical messages to regulate everything from mood to sleep to appetite
- Food sensitivities particular from certain carbohydrates
I tend to use the low FODMAPS diet as a short term therapeutic exercise in my practice as this has the most evidence based research backing it up and is an effective short- term dietary approach. FODMAPS is an acronym for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols and was developed in Australia by MONASH University. The protocol involves restricting certain problematic carbohydrates and reintroduce them in a particular order (from the least offensive to most people to the most offensive to the majority of people). The aim is to find out which of the carbohydrate groups are problematic and to remove them from the diet. Some people find that these problem foods items can be tolerated at a later date in smaller doses (with the exception of those with true food allergies such as celiac disease).
Pros – this diet has plenty of research to back it up and it does relieve symptoms and increase quality of life in most people if the protocol is adhered to. The diet is focused on fresh, whole foods, preferably home-made. A person will focus on whether they have symptoms or not and will learn to listen to their bodies.
Cons – the protocol is quite restrictive and it may be difficult to get the reintroduction correct if you are doing it alone. Hiring a properly trained nutritionist or dietitian is an added expense for some people. The diet is a short term protocol and not designed for long term use, and has been shown to alter gut bacteria in the long-term.
Other popular diets in this area are, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, GAPs diet and the Body Ecology Diet (BED) and are variations of the same theme –reducing and/or eliminating problematic carbohydrates particularly gluten containing grains and dairy. Each of them can be quite restrictive and difficult to adhere to long term but some may provide relief from symptoms. However, removing or severely restricting whole food groups long-term can be detrimental to health. Hence the need to be advised by a trained nutritionist or dietitian.
Gastrointestinal disorders are on the rise in the Western world for various reasons: Stress, lack of exercise, smoking, alcohol, certain medications (never discontinue without talking to GP first), highly refined and processed diet with little fiber or nutrient density are all contributing factors. A short term therapeutic diet can significantly relieve symptoms, however a holistic approach will achieve better long term results.
If you feel that you need one to one support feel free to book a 15 minute chat with me, I can give you some basic advice and point you in the right direction.