Dealing with Excessive Bloating? Maybe It's IBS

Do you experience excessive bloating, pain or discomfort in your abdominal area? Do you suffer often from diarrhoea or constipation? If your answer to these questions is yes, there is a good chance that you may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. However, it is not a health problem that cannot be remedied. 

What is Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a type of gastrointestinal disorder previously called ‘spastic colon’ or ‘bowel disease’ or ‘nervous colon’. Often, it is a mix of belly discomfort or bowel problems.  There are no exact causes but those who suffer from it report experiencing these conditions: 

  •       Food passing through quickly through the bowel
  •       Food passing very slowly through the bowel
  •       Sensitive muscles and nerves in the bowel causing cramps in the belly

What are the symptoms? 

  •       Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating—usually relieved by passing bowel movement
  •       Diarrhoea or constipation
  •       Excess gas

Almost 1 in 10 people suffer from IBS in Singapore. You are more likely to develop symptoms of IBS if you are:

  •       Female
  •       Under the age of 50 
  •       Medical history of IBS. 
  •       Mental health problems

At large, IBS is different for everyone. From the cause to types of symptoms, it’s all too subjective. But more commonly, the signs and symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Some factors to take into consideration are your diet, lifestyle and stress levels, which could be triggering your pain. As for those who suffer from much more severe symptoms, it could be related to other underlying health concerns. Therefore, it’s recommended that you seek proper medical treatment or counselling from a certified dietician to manage IBS symptoms and signs.  

If you’re comfortable with taking matters into your own hands, there are a few natural remedies that may help relieve your symptoms temporarily including:

1. Start a low FODMAPs diet

A popular recommendation is the low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-saccharides, di-saccharides, mono-saccharides and polyols. In layman’s terms, it refers to different small types of carbohydrates such as sugar, starches and fibre, found in foods. Studies have shown that 76% of IBS patients who followed through with the low FODMAP diet reported improvement with their symptoms. 

Disclaimer: If you have any pre-existing health conditions, the low FODMAP diet may not be safe or healthy for you. Please consult with your doctor or a certified dietician before adopting this diet.

Grocery list: What to avoid
  • Yoghurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Apples
  • Mangoes 
  • Peaches
  • Honey
  • Broccoli
  • Kidney beans
  • Soybeans
  • Mushroom
  • Cauliflower

2. Commit to an elimination diet

But jokes aside, an elimination diet is incredibly helpful to identify the foods that don't sit well in your guts. In a study of 146 IBS patients, about 75% of them experienced fewer symptoms through an elimination diet. The most common foods that are tested for its reactivity and tolerance includes:

  •       Dairy products 
  •       Gluten-rich foods
  •       Soy products

How to get started: 

i. Decide which are the likely foods that are triggering your IBS symptoms.
ii. Keep a food diary; note everything that you eat and mention whether you show any symptoms. Do this for a set period of 12 weeks or more.
iii. After the first period, start reintroducing foods from the high FODMAP group in smaller amounts. Leave a one-day gap in between to monitor your progress.

3. Do some simple relaxation exercises

Doctors often refer to IBS as a brain-gut connection. A change or disturbance of these connections can lead to the first onset of triggers you could have. Some individuals find that regular practice of deep relaxation can help turn off the threat response and eventually, help relieve your symptoms of stress and muscle tension. In a study published in Ailment Pharmacological Therapy, of those 69 IBS patients who practised deep breathing and relaxation techniques for five weeks had fewer IBS symptoms than those who didn’t. 

Here is a quick exercise to get you started:

i. Place your hand above your belly button to be aware of your abdominal breathing.
ii. Close your eyes. Take a long, deep breath into your belly.
iii. Breathe out slowly, counting to 7 through your mouth. Breathe in on the count of 4 and breathe out on the count of 7.
iv. Repeat this for 3-4 times.
(*Image source: Your.MD, Adobe Stock, Twitter)