Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Here’s What You Need to Know

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) consists of several gut conditions such as stomach cramping, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation (1). It affects as many as one in ten adults globally. It can feel frustrating as IBS symptoms can be unpredictable and unable to control. While the severity of symptoms varies from one person to another, there are guidelines on how to manage IBS.

Firstly, how is IBS caused?

While the exact cause is unknown, IBS is considered a disorder of the gut-brain axis, which essentially means communication between the gut and the brain is out of sync. This can result in an overly sensitive intestine, causing exaggerated responses to food, drinks, and medication.

Factors which can increase your risk of IBS include :

  • Food poisoning
  • A gut infection
  • A history of trauma or stress
  • Family history of IBS

Management of IBS

  • Studies have shown that the majority of people with IBS are able to manage their symptoms by making changes to their diet (2). The effects of changing your diet can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, giving your gut time to rest. It is also important to practice proper sleep hygiene, mindfulness, and breathing strategies to target improving the gut-brain communication. Check out our previous article, ​Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle​, for more information on these topics. Moderate physical activity is also recommended as it has shown to minimise IBS symptoms such as reduce bloating and gas buildup, and relieve constipation. Yoga in particular has shown to improve symptoms in both adults and adolescents (3).
  • With regards to diet it’s not just what you eat but the way you eat as well. It’s recommended that people who suffer with IBS establish a regular meal pattern (3 meals a day, 2 snacking periods), and to avoid skipping meals or going long periods between eating. Also, make sure to avoid large meals and take time to eat by chewing your food thoroughly (3).

Potential dietary triggers of IBS include:

● Alcohol
Alcohol has seen to be a trigger in some patients but not all. It is advised to have no more than 1 drink/ day for women and 2 drinks/ day for men while also having at least 2 alcohol-free days a week.

● Caffeine
Coffee has shown to increase bowel movements and may lead to a laxative effect in healthy individuals regardless of whether they have IBS. Limit to one caffeine-containing drink or food/ day/

● Spicy food
Spicy foods have shown to trigger GI symptoms in those with IBS. Limit chilli-containing meals and restrict use of pepper sauce.

● Fat
Limit large portions of high-fat foods such as fried foods and fatty meats. These include fries, fried chicken or other fried meats, pies, fried bake, pastries, cake, potato chips, full-fat cream cheese, cream, coconut milk.

● Milk and dairy products
Limiting milk and dairy products is only necessary if you are lactose intolerant as there is no evidence to suggest a milk-free diet improves symptoms for people with IBS. If you suspect you are sensitive to milk a trial of a low lactose diet is recommended.

● Dietary fibre
Spread your fibre intake throughout the day rather. Try for 2 pieces of fruit, 5 portions of vegetables, 3 portions of wholegrains, and 1–2 portions of legumes/ nuts/ seeds each day. If your intake of dietary fiber is below this, increase gradually.

● Fluid
Aim for 1.5–3 litres of fluids a day (aim for mostly water or non-caffeinated herbal teas).

Not everyone’s IBS works in the same way and therefore reducing some of the foods above may help while for others it may not be as useful. If your symptoms are still not improving it may be necessary to contact your GP, gastroenterologist, dietitian or nutritionist. They may discuss a low-FODMAP diet with you which aims to reduce a group of carbohydrates found in a wide range of foods which are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. They may also provide other helpful strategies for management of IBS.

Information this week by: Kirstyn Church, an Associate Nutritionist​ with Nutrition Consulting Services. Tru Valu Supermarket is one of the leading grocery chains in Trinidad and Tobago with five stores and the best customers. Have a question? Email us

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  1. “What Is IBS?” ​NHS ,​ NHS, 2017,
  2. Hayes, P. A., Fraher, M. H., & Quigley, E. M. M. (2014). Irritable bowel syndrome: The role of food in pathogenesis and management. In Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
  3. Cozma-Petruţ, A., Loghin, F., Miere, D., & Dumitraşcu, D. L. (2017). Diet in irritable bowel syndrome: What to recommend, not what to forbid to patients!. ​World journal of gastroenterology,​ ​23(​ 21), 3771–3783.

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