Nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton reveals how to ease the symptoms of a troubled bowel by choosing the right foods
Statistics tell us that at least a third of us are affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) at some time during our life. It is often called ‘a functional disorder’ of the bowel because it is a disturbance in function that has no obvious cause or abnormality.
As well as having an impact on the appearance and frequency of your stools, IBS can also be accompanied by a range of other symptoms from bloating and cramping to tiredness and depression. Modern diets and busy lifestyles leave us all vulnerable to some of the above at times but the cumulative effect of many of these symptoms together can lead to an IBS diagnosis.
There is much that can be done effectively and naturally to address the symptoms. Below are a few ideas that you can introduce into your daily routine.
According to a recent study, two thirds of patients with IBS have at least one food allergy and some have multiple allergies, the most common of these being dairy and grains. If you think this could be your problem, consult a nutritionist for a food allergy test or talk to them about the best way to experiment with an elimination diet to work out whether you have an intolerance or allergy.
Sugar decreases intestinal motility, which means it has a negative impact on the rhythmic flow of the gut wall and the way that food passes effectively through the gut. It also causes our blood sugar levels to rocket and when this happens it causes the muscular rhythmic flow to slow down even further, so that foods remain in the gut to fester for longer. Remove refined sugar from your diet and you will hopefully notice a difference.
This is recommended for those IBS sufferers who experience constipation. Choose fibre from fruit (stewed for easier digestion) and vegetable sources such as apples, pears, figs, green leafy vegetables or root vegetables such as squash or beetroot. These are also dense in antioxidants needed to heal the gut wall. Include at least two varieties of fibre with every meal to boost your intake.
Do be aware that if your symptoms are contribute to by an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine (also known as SIBO), you may benefit from reducing the amount of fibre-rich plants in your diet. A qualified nutritional therapist can help you determine this.
Keeping your fluids up helps the digestive system to form and pass waste products. If these waste products remain in the gut for too long, it can create a perfect environment for the proliferation of unwanted bacteria and IBS symptoms. A key tip is to drink water in between meals, not with meals. Drinking water with meals can dilute your digestive enzymes, thereby essentially weakening your digestive toolbox.
Not only does caffeine act as a diuretic, but it also contains natural chemicals that can irritate the gut. Caffeine products include coffee, tea, chocolate and colas (diet and non-diet). Chamomile is one of the best remedies for constipation and complete evacuation. This is because it softens the waste and helps the bowel wall relax.
This is a tricky one. Many of us live a very busy life and because we ‘manage’ it day in and day out we may grow used to the stress that it brings with it. Unfortunately, we are not always aware that our emotional and physical health is not managing this lifestyle quite so well and as a result conditions such as IBS can develop. Psychotherapy in the form of relaxation therapy or stress management training has been shown to reduce symptoms of IBS.
Digestion starts in the mouth, where enzymes in your saliva get to work in starting to break down your food, so chewing well is a very simple but effective tool. Chewing also triggers powerful enzymes to be released by the pancreas, meaning your food will be broken down more easily and the risk of indigestion and bloating are reduced.
It’s also important not to eat on the run. When your body is stressed, digestion gets puts down to the bottom of its list of priorities so that your body’s energy can be spared and diverted to where it is most needed; usually your extremities and away from your gut so your body can fight or flight if it needs to.
Try to engage with your food too. Avoiding working at your desk or watching TV while you eat can be a bit of a habit shift but entirely worth it and allows your brain to process what you are doing.
Henrietta Norton is a nutritional therapist, author and co-founder of Wild Nutrition (wildnutrition.com). She has clinics at Grace Belgravia and SP & Co in London.
Sometimes the gut needs a helping hand and the following nutritional supplements have been shown to be of much benefit:
• Probiotics lactobacillus acidophilus or lactobacillus plantarum: Chose a supplement providing a minimum of two billion CFU (colony forming units) per day and preferably without the addition of FOS which can increase the symptoms of bloating and flatulence. I use Wild Nutrition’s MultiStrain Biotic with my clients.
• Magnesium: This supports muscle contractions of the digestive tract and can therefore allows regular bowel movements. Deficiency in magnesium is associated with constipation and so taking a high quality magnesium supplement such as Wild Nutrition’s Food-Grown Magnesium can support regular bowel movements. Include plenty of magnesium-rich foods into the diet too such as leafy green vegetables and seeds such as pumpkin.
• Zinc: This is needed to produce healthy levels of stomach acid (also called hydrochloric acid). This is needed to break down macronutrients such as protein and fat as well as absorb the minerals found in these foods. Build in plenty of zinc-rich foods such as seeds, pecan nuts, lamb and scallops. You may also wish to take a zinc supplement to support your intake of this important mineral.
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