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What are the causes of IBS & can the FODMAP diet help?

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Girl holding tummy with hands. Causes of IBS & FODMAP diet

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not a disease or illness but a collection of symptoms that then is put under the umbrella term of you having IBS. There can be many causes and the reason for your symptoms may be very different to somebody else. Finding out your root cause and your triggers is the starting point to improving your symptoms and ultimately being free from IBS. In this blog post I will be looking at IBS symptoms, the different root causes of IBS & how the FODMAP diet may help and what to do next.

Symptoms of IBS

  • Bloating

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhoea

  • Excessive wind

  • Changes in bowel habits*

  • Urgency to go

  • Incomplete evacuation of bowels

  • Fatigue

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

*Any changes in bowel habits, you should see your GP or seek medical advice.

Root causes of IBS

The body is very complex made up of many systems such as the endocrine (hormone) system, immune system as well as the digestive system. They are interrelated and if one gets out of balance it can affect other systems. This is why when looking at IBS it is important to consider the whole body and what else is going on. I have grouped the potential root causes of your IBS under the systems in the body to give you a better understanding of how they can be related.

Let’s talk about the Digestive system

Digestion is the process by which the body breaks down food into nutrients that can be absorbed and used for energy and growth.

When the digestive system isn’t working properly, it can lead to food particles not being broken down properly and allowing undigested foods particles to move through the gut whereby bacteria and yeasts feed upon them. This results in IBS symptoms particularly bloating. Rushing your food and eating on the go can hinder the digestive process by literally by eating so fast it doesn’t allow the process to work properly. Here’s what can go wrong?

  • Too Little Stomach Acid: One of the first triggers for digesting your food, stomach acid breaks down the protein in your stomach and allows an acid environment to help kill off any nasty bacteria.

  • Lack of Digestive Enzymes & pancreatic insufficiency: Your stomach, small intestine and pancreas all produce digestive enzymes that breakdown food for absorption as nutrients into the blood stream.

  • Low Bile levels: Bile is produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder and has the function of digesting fats.

  • Motility imbalance: The digestive system propels your food along by waves of muscle called peristalsis, which is so important in keeping the digested food moving through the gut. Poor motility may result in constipation and if overstimulated in diarrhoea.

  • Eating Too Quickly or on the Go: Stomach acid and enzymes are triggered by the act of chewing and production of saliva. Not chewing, eating too quickly or in a rushed manner can hinder proper digestion by reducing the effectiveness of chewing and limiting the body's ability to prepare for food intake. This bypasses the digestive process by just not given enough time for the enzymes to work properly.

  • SIBO: Small intestinal bacteria overgrowth is excessive bacteria that has formulated in the small intestine where it shouldn't be. The bacteria feeds on the undigested food causing bloating within an hour of eating.

Within the Microbiome

The microbiome refers to the diverse community of microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract and play a crucial role in maintaining gut health. They are made up of bacteria, yeasts and sometimes parasites. An imbalance or overgrowth of these microorganisms can cause symptoms of abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea and wind.

  • Dysbiosis: Dysbiosis is an imbalance or disruption in the normal composition of gut bacteria. This can be caused by unfriendly bacteria or parasites that have set up home in your guts, pushing out the good bacteria and cause all sorts of havoc. These nasties need to be removed or your symptoms wouldn’t be resolved. Also, there can be an overgrowth of friendly bacteria which may lead to inflammation.

  • Candida infection: The most common yeast infection is Candida albicans although there are many other yeasts that can proliferate the gut as well. They have spindle like reach that can poke through the gut lining and wreak havoc with the immune system causing food intolerances. The candida loves sugar and if you have any infection you are likely to crave sugar. Candida takes up valuable space in the gut that is reserved for friendly bacteria and can lead to bloating, changes in bowel habits and food intolerances.

How does the immune system get involved?

  • Allergies, intolerances & food sensitivities: The immune system responds to anything it perceives as alien. You may have a genetic born true allergy or an intolerance or food sensitivity that your body has become sensitive to over time. Whichever the case, allergies and intolerance can cause many gastrointestinal reactions and be far reaching effecting other systems in the body.

What effect does the Endocrine System have on digestion?

  • Stress and adrenal imbalance: Due to our ancestors we have a flight or fight adrenal response allowing us to deal with moments of danger. In this instance our digestive system slows as priority goes the muscles and brain. Today, we feel this as stress and it is not as easily dispersed leading to a slower digestive system, constipation and bloating.

Where to go from here

Is FODMAP the answer?

The FODMAP diet is a dietary approach designed to manage and alleviate symptoms in individuals with IBS. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, which are a group of specific carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in various foods. These substances are known to be poorly absorbed in the small intestine and can ferment in the gut, leading to symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea in some people.

It certainly may help you in the short term and relieve symptoms but not in everyone’s case. To be free of IBS symptoms, it is important to find the root cause and triggers for you. The FODMAP diet works by calming your digestive system and it needs to be followed carefully and for two weeks maximum. During that time, unless the root cause of your IBS is resolved, when you bring back those FODMAP foods you may well start having symptoms again and then you may feel you need to stay on the FODMAP diet. It is NOT designed to be a long term solution.

What may help your IBS

Think about what may be the root cause of your IBS symptoms. Take some time to trial some of the tips below. For more ideas download my complimentary eBook ‘Revitalise your digestion’ found on my free stuff webpage.

  • Have fresh pineapple or papaya before a meal which contains natural enzymes. Or take a digestive enzyme with meals.

  • Test for low stomach acid. Simple test, have 1 teaspoon of lemon juice after a meal and monitor to see if it alleviates your symptoms. If it makes it worse, have a glass of milk.

  • Increase anti-microbial foods by adding garlic, olive oil & coconut oil. Consider an antimicrobial supplement but do seek qualified nutritional advice.

  • Avoid sugar & white carbohydrates. Swap for wholegrain products.

  • Have natural bio yoghurt to increase good bacteria or take a probiotic supplement.

  • Increase motility with adding ginger to your meals.

  • Eating in a relaxed manner, upright, away from distractions, at a table or outdoors.

  • Chew, chew and chew again! Release those enzymes and get that saliva flowing.

  • Take 3 big deep breaths before you eat, really smell your food and imagine eating it.

  • Get involved in the preparation of your meals, take time and enjoy the process.

  • Start calming activities such as yoga, Pilates and gentle walks 20mins after eating.

Which tests may help with finding root cause of IBS

  • Digestive stool test which is a comprehensive MOT of your digestive system

  • Food intolerance testing IgG

  • Adrenal stress profile assessing the pituitary-adrenal axis and stress hormones

Unlock the key to better digestive health and well-being with my free ebook, "Revitalise Your Digestion." Download it today to embark on a journey to digestive wellness and experience the transformative power of a healthier gut.

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