Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS-Discomfort-Pain-in-stomachThese days, I am willing to bet that each and every one of you knows at least one person who has either been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or thinks that they have IBS. IBS is a condition associated with the digestive system and just like the name, the symptoms you experience with IBS are quite varied. Symptoms range from unexplained diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, and/or cramping. Some people also experience flatulence and even acid reflux. Symptoms can vary from one person to another and there is no known definitive cause for IBS. For example, one person may only experience constipation and others will experience only diarrhoea. There will be those who experience both. The GP will usually run a few tests to rule out parasites and other bowel infections. They may even ask you to keep a food or bowel journal, but nothing really comes out of all of that. Those who are often diagnosed with IBS are told that they have to live with it and to just figure out what triggers it if there is a trigger.

Having IBS is not fun to live with and some experience minor symptoms, but others experience major symptoms that can disturb their day-to-day lives. Emerging research shows that diet does play a huge role in the management of IBS. As you all know, Ayurveda emphasizes that a balanced digestion is the key to balanced health. And personally, I do not agree that someone with IBS should just have to live with it. Here is what you need to know about digestion, especially Irritable Bowel Syndrome from the perspective of Nutrition and Ayurveda.

1) Yes, Stress does affect your digestion, but food does too. If stress is the sole cause of your IBS then it can be effectively managed through various stress management techniques. If stress is the cause, then you will notice that only when you are stressed do you get constipated. Or when you are extremely nervous about a presentation that you have to run to the loo because you have the runs. Keeping a bowel movement journal along with an activity and mood journal can help to identify if stress levels are a cause.

2) Food triggers are always present when it comes to IBS. However, there are two types of food triggers. The first is a food trigger as a result of a weak digestion and the second is a food trigger as a result of food intolerances and allergies. What’s the difference? Well, a weak digestion means that if you consume certain foods, your stomach just can’t digest the food, so you need to do some gut healing, by doing a detox and then boosting your digestion and metabolism through various foods. If the IBS is a result of food intolerances and allergies, it is crucial that the foods be identified so that you can remove the foods from your diet. Depending on the severity of the intolerance, certain foods can be added back in a few months later. Keeping a detailed food diary is one way to identify food triggers, but having a blood test is the easiest, yet more costly way to identify food triggers that are causing both delayed and non-delayed reactions.

3) Can you remember when it all started? Often times, there can be one moment in time that resulted in you having IBS. It could have started when you experienced food poisoning or had a bad case of the stomach flu and ate something at the time which just did not go down well. Your body can be traumatised by such experiences and if you can identify when the IBS started, then that can play a huge role in the treatment of IBS.

4) Suppression of natural urges. If you feel the urge to urinate or evacuate your bowels, these urges should never be suppressed. Often times, many people feel quite conscious of “pooping” in public restrooms, especially at work and therefore you hold it in until you get home. Keep in mind that having a bowel movement is natural and everyone has to have bowel movements. But what’s most important is that the more you hold it in, you are setting yourself up for irregular bowel movements and thus IBS. Our bodies are not designed to hold in faeces, so if you have to go, don’t wait too long.

5) Food additives and preservatives. Another cause of IBS that I have commonly seen in my clients are food additives and preservatives. Sulphites, nitrates, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) and many of the “E” numbers are common causes of IBS. Although this hasn’t been scientifically proven, let’s face it, our bodies are not designed to ingest chemicals made in a laboratory that preserve food longer. Our bodies have trouble processing and breaking down these harsh chemicals, which in turn can lead to digestive upsets. The general rule of thumb is that the less processing, treatment, and transformation the food has gone through, the better it is for you.

If you struggle with IBS, the sooner you try to work through it, the easier it will be. The longer you wait, the more challenging it will be to find out what your food triggers are and what might be the potential cause. Of course, there can be other causes to IBS, but these are the common triggers that I often see with my clients.

If you are struggling with IBS, send me an email: or give me a call on 07867 383748 and we can chat about how nutrition can help you.

Health and happiness,