People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, experience chronic constipation or diarrhea or fluctuate between the two. While not life-threatening in itself, IBS has dire effects on lifestyle and can threaten a person's employment due to absenteeism and company time spent in the bathroom. Medications can help to an extent, but the IBS sufferer eventually has to change his eating habits to both combat the symptoms and refrain from bringing on an attack. The Mayo Clinic recommends some dietary and lifestyle changes to manage the condition.
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Some dietary triggers for IBS include caffeine, dairy products, chocolate, alcohol, fried foods, spicy foods, fatty foods and soda consumption. The Mayo Clinic suggests abstaining from these foods. Better choices include high-fiber foods, nuts, whole-grain breads, pasta and cereal, fruits, vegetables and popcorn. Lean meat, poultry without skin and most fish have little or no effect on IBS. Water intake proves crucial for two reasons. For diarrhea, it will replace lost fluids, and in constipation, it adds moisture to stools. Other foods that have fiber but may cause gas include beans, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.
Some changes in the way you do things can also help. For instance, instead of sipping through a straw, drink from the glass. This cuts down on the amount air you swallow. For the same reason, keep gum-chewing to a minimum. Artificial sweeteners can cause a worsening of IBS symptoms, so limit their use and watch for them in processed foods. Stay on a regular eating schedule. If you have diarrhea, smaller, more frequent meals will calm the intestines. If constipation prevails, eat larger meals containing lots of fiber. Missing meals and an erratic eating schedule can prove counterproductive to regulating your bowels.
Another contributor to IBS comes from the way in which you live. High-stress jobs, troubles at home, money problems and major life changes can cause your symptoms to worsen. The stomach and intestines quickly react to stress of all kinds. Avoiding all stress is impossible. Learning to deal with stress in a positive way will minimize its effects on your GI system. Exercise helps manage stress. The endorphins released by your brain in response to exercise help cushion the body from the effects of stress. Find what works for you.
A high-fiber diet can sometimes add discomforts such as bloating, cramping or gas. Fiber supplements tend to have fewer of these side effects. You can take this type of fiber in many forms. Some supplements come in wafers. Powdered fiber mixes with water. You’ll also find supplements in pill and liquid form. It will take some experimenting to find the one that suits your needs and keeps you comfortable. Beware of overusing laxatives and anti-diarrheal medicines. Treating your IBS symptoms with diet and exercise proves safer than reliance on these medicines. Consult your physician if these measures don’t work for you.