Photo: Tanya Reihill

We need to talk about IBS

Term three is treating you severely and then you get struck down with an illness, on top of all those exams and deadlines. It’s not an ideal scenario, but then again it isn’t a disaster. If your ailment happens to be a cold, for example, you could get an easy fix with some Olbas Oil and a few Lockets. As for hay fever, there are nasal sprays and drowsy antihistamine tablets to alleviate your pain.

But what about irritable bowel syndrome? It’s not only tricky in its symptoms; they can leave you feeling like you’ve been thrown head first into a ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Dr Pepper advert, but it’s also a nightmare to relieve: there is no medical cure.

IBS, as it is shortened to, is highly common in the UK. The syndrome usually pops up when in your 20s, although it can develop at any age. It is estimated that one in five suffer from it, and women are twice as likely to face the gut problems than men. Yet, despite being so commonplace, it’s rarely discussed. The symptoms are both awkward and vile, leaving sufferers to shy away from any mention of it, and instead opting to tell people, “I have a stomach condition” – a remark that warrants no further investigation.

Embarrassments aside though, there is a high chance that some readers of this article will have undiagnosed IBS, and will be wondering what on earth is going on in their gut. Symptoms include chronic pain and cramps in your abdomen, a visible ‘food baby’ from bloating, a continual shift in bowel movements, and finally an occasional urgency to get to a toilet. Obviously, this can then induce stress and anxiety about going out anywhere in public in case your stomach doesn’t play ball, and so the downward spiral persists.

So, while it clearly isn’t going to be the hot topic of conversation when meeting a friend over a Bread Oven, IBS is there, and it is potent. Two of the main causes are a bad diet and stress – both of which will probably take over some people’s lives in term three.

As mentioned, there is no cure. Of course there are tablets that you can take to lighten the literally gut-wrenching symptoms, however these generally serve only to make you more constipated and do not solve the issue at hand. Instead, the best remedy is self-help. And so, here are five ways you can directly help yourself:

1. Observe and alter your diet

By ‘self-help’, I am not advising a trip to Dr and Herbs; instead simply take note of your diet for symptom triggers. Carbonated drinks, oily foods and meals with high gluten content are very typically the aggressors of IBS cramps and contractions. So, have a salad box or brown bread from the Bread Oven and be sure to overload with red onions and red peppers – two IBS-friendly ingredients. Learn what your triggers are and avoid them. Soon enough you will notice a difference and appreciate how much your diet affects your body.

2. Take regular time away from your revision fort to eat

Not having regular meals, or starving for long periods of time, only serves to annoy your gut. Don’t skip breakfast in an attempt to get to your 9am faster; wake up earlier and eat something with oats in, like porridge, to prevent total war from your bowel.  Moreover, don’t skip any and all food in a last ditch attempt to get a banging ‘bikini bod’ – it doesn’t work and does more harm than good not only to your gut, but to your everyday functions in general.

3. Avoid Smack

I said it, Smack is a certified health hazard. There is a message here though: cut down what you drink. Alcohol really upsets irritable bowel syndrome. What’s worse is the double whammy of alcohol and a fizzy mixer. If you’re going to go all out then go for it, have fun, but know that your stomach will avenge you in the following days. As handy as Lucozade is for restoring your health the morning after the night before, opt for water or fruit smoothies instead.

4. Listen to whale sounds

Also known as ‘de-stress’. Whether you use ocean noises or stress balls, as hard as it is to do, and as easy as it is for me to say it: don’t stress. Crank up some Bob Marley, or whatever floats your boat, and relax. Tension and nerves are much understated causes of IBS, so be on guard against the butterflies.

5. Cheat

Although it’s best for your health to stick to a strict diet, a military routine of apples and oats can be drab. Have a night off every so often and eat or drink whatever it is that you went teetotal from in order to feel better. IBS can feel like a life sentence but, if managed properly, you can still have fun.

Comments (3)

  • Thomas Mercer

    This article brings attention to a problem that is often ignored. IBS can be a serious problem. Some studies suggest that 10-15% of the population have IBS. I have to take issue with the statement that there is no cure. That is not strictly speaking true. There is no simple, obvious cure that works for everyone. But there is plenty of research showing that there are many different conditions that can cause IBS and which can be treated. The secret is to get the right testing. For example, many patients that present with IBS have celiac (coeliac) disease and can be cured of their IBS by removing gluten grains from their diet. There is a great resource in the states:

    • There is no set cure that the doctor can give to every sufferer and see improvements with. This is what I was saying. There are tablets that can relieve your pain and there are methods such as controlling your diet (as noted), or cleaning the colon, etc. These will work for some people. However, IBS is highly subjective to each patient, thus there is no set cure like antibiotics etc. that works for everyone.

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