If you suffer from IBS you will know that an episode (string of symptoms in a few short minutes) can leave you feeling wasted. Here are a few tips on how to treat an IBS episode and recover as quickly as possible.
I’ve had diagnosed IBS since I was nine (a long time), and as the years have gone on, I’ve fumbled my way through different diets and food eliminations to finally wind up on a FODMAP diet. IBS episodes can be cyclic but also unpredictable. After recovering from Candidiasis 4 years ago I have had a rather healthy season over the last few years. However, I’ve noticed particularly this year that the IBS episodes have occurred more frequently than I would like, sometimes because of my own doing and sometimes not. My theory at this stage is that it has something to do with change in hormones as I enter the peri-menopause phase of life. When these episodes happen I’m usually quite sick for anywhere up to three days with diarrhoea, sore tummy, bloating and extreme tiredness. You can read more about IBS here. So what have I learn’t to do over all these years when these episodes present themselves.
When an episode occurs it usually feels like a stomach flu or virus, so I have often treated myself in the same way I do if I had a stomach bug. But how did the episode occur in the first place.
Some Triggers that can cause an IBS episode
1. Stress and IBS – Stress is probably the most common trigger for many gut related issues due to the fact that stress hormones are produced and or secreted through the gut. These stress hormones while they serve a purpose, wreak havoc on digestive and intestinal systems. Serotonin is probably the worst as 90% of it is produced in the gut and plays a role in the motility waves of the bowel. If too much serotonin is produced it often causes diarrhoea and if too little than it can cause constipation. Stress also creates a problem with the digestive system sometimes slowing down causing foods to sit for too long in the digestive tract which can lead to fermentation. In a normal person this may cause some discomfort, wind or gas and some bloating. Usually within a few hours after the stressful situation has passed the digestion will start chugging along and disperse the food and no further problems are noted. In an IBS sufferer this is usually not the case. Once the bowel has had cause to eliminate too fast it often sets a chain of events off that will take anywhere from 12-48 hours to settle. If the stress continues, so too do the symptoms. Reproductive hormones, namely oestrogen and progesterone can trigger symptoms as well. Hence, women with IBS will often suffer more with pelvic pain, painful cramping and diarrhoea during their menstrual cycle more so than women who don’t have IBS. As peri-menopause symptoms begin to appear IBS symptoms may flare due to fluctuations in oestrogen.
Golden Rule – Manage your stress! Treat stress levels as you would any other illness or condition. It has to be managed otherwise it will manage you. Use exercise, breathing techniques or a go to place when you need to lower the stress levels. If hormones are unbalanced see a doctor or natural therapist for some advice. You can read more about stress here.
2. Diet – A poor diet that comprises of fast or overly processed foods combined with alcohol, smoking, and high doses of sugar will eventually destroy any healthy gut bacteria and lining leaving you vulnerable to all sorts of illness and disease. So too can foods that cause the PH balance of the gut to be thrown off. Foods such as wheat and other grains that contain gluten, dairy foods and High FODMAP foods that cause fermentation in the gut can prove troublesome as time goes on. Fruit, although it is one of the healthiest snacks around, has become a food item that has been overly consumed in the last 30 years. Many families have opted for a piece or two of fruit for every snack time in the pursuit of healthiness. At the end of a 24 hour period they have consumed 6 or more pieces of fruit and left with sore tummies and runny poo’s. Our body can only produce so many enzymes in one 24 hour period. If there is not enough of those enzymes or they are compromised because of having to digest a heavy load on the gut than problems are going to occur.
Golden Rule: Eat all foods in moderation! Even foods that are good for you can cause problems if eaten in excess! Eat a variety of foods that your body can handle and don’t overload your gut even on the healthy stuff.
Note: To the seasoned IBS sufferer, the temptation of eating something “just once” will often set you up for failure. If you know that you can’t stop at one, then don’t eat the one to begin with. The other mistake is thinking that you can have a bit each day. IBS and other gut disorders can be very deceiving as it can sometimes take 3 days of eating a particular way before the gut reacts, which by then it’s too late, an episode will occur and there’s no going back. It’s fine to say “I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of chocolate on Tuesday or those 2 dates on Wednesday or the whole banana on Friday.”, but learn that accumulation of certain foods over a few days will overload the gut and cause problems. I have this love/hate relationship with Mejool dates. I love them! My gut hates them! Too much fructose. I also love dried organic cranberries. My body hates me when I eat them. But I still have this emotional attachment to wanting to eat them. If your self control wains then don’t keep them in the house!
Golden rule here is: 5 minutes in the mouth is not worth 24 hours of pain in the gut!
3. Supplements and Medications – Surprisingly many supplements can trigger IBS episodes when they are supposed to be helping. I learn’t only a little while ago that even when the wisest of natural therapists advise on taking XYZ supplements in the belief that it will help with IBS symptoms or secondary symptoms, it often ends in disaster and hindering the condition rather than helping. Some of the supplements that have been unhelpful to me in the past have been –
Magnesium powder – People with IBS are often deficient in minerals such as magnesium and zinc. Because IBS sufferers usually have anxiety/depression symptoms caused by the gut/mind relationship, magnesium is often recommended to help alleviate a variety of problems such as anxiety, muscle cramping and pain, headaches, heartburn and constipation. The flip side of this is that too much magnesium can cause runny poo’s and nausea. For some IBS sufferers finding the right daily dose can be tricky. I found I could only take 1/2 the daily dose and at times had to take it every other day. But there are some solutions. One is to swap the powder for a tablet. The powders often contain selenium which in combination can cause problems with IBS. The other option is to use a Magnesium spray. Magnesium oil is one of the fastest ways of getting magnesium into your body and if you are someone that doesn’t like taking supplements than applying the oil to the external body may be a better option.
Iron – I have had diagnosed Anaemia 3 or 4 times in my life. My last season of Anaemia I had 0 iron stores left! My doctor was amazed that I was still standing! Iron supplements can cause diarrhoea and nausea if the dose is too high and can be toxic if taken in excess. Finding the right dose and the form that iron comes in can solve some of the problems. I’ve tried several different iron supplements, some have worked and some haven’t. Liquid iron such as Spatone, sourced directly from mineral water springs in the UK. It is a low dose of 5mg of elemental iron. It’s easy to take but didn’t provide enough iron for my iron stores to recover. Floradix is another liquid iron supplement which also contains Vitamins B’s and C plus a host of fruit & vegetable concentrates. I had this many years before I discovered fodmap information. I now know why it made me feel so sick. My daughter also tried this one as a youngster but it made her too nauseas. I tried Ferro grade C which contains 105 mg elemental iron and 500 mg Vitamin C. This was totally unsuccessful resulting in constipation, nausea and vomiting. I then tried FAB Iron tablets. A combination of Vitamin B’s with 10 mg of elemental iron. This worked for me for quite a few years, however I still managed to reach low iron stores even when I was on it. When I hit my all time record of 0 iron stores during the Candidiasis season I was faced with taking a really high dose of iron. I was put onto Fefol capsules. The folic acid assists with the absorption of iron while the tiny coated pellets are designed to release iron over a delayed time period. This helped with two things; maintaining the absorption rate of the iron and not causing any gastrointestinal problems often associated with iron supplements. Each capsule has 87.4 mg of iron which I started on 1 a day and worked up to 3 capsules a day for 6 months. I managed to get my iron stores up to 50% of what I needed and in another 3 months could start decreasing the amount of capsules to just 1 a day and then eventually to just 10 days during my menstrual cycle.
Sometimes the problem is also that you are given too many supplements to start at the same time. The best protocol to follow is to start one supplement and then wait up to a week before starting the next one and so on, checking in to see if any reactions occur.
Golden Rule – Don’t be afraid to question supplements and dosages. There is no “one size fit all” when it comes to medications or natural supplements. And just because they are natural don’t think that they won’t have potential side effects.
4. Fibre – This is probably a subject worthy of it’s own post but I’ll touch on it briefly here. Often IBS sufferers are recommended to eat more dietary fibre. While fibre is essential in any diet it’s the type of fibre and how much you eat that is going to either help or hinder. When I was nineteen and dealing with severe constipation I was advised to go on a high fibre diet including wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and brown rice. While this ultimately alleviated the constipation to a certain degree it aggravated all the other IBS symptoms such as inflamed gut lining, head fog and eventually causing diarrhoea. The key would have been to start slowly and add more vegetables instead of wheat bread or pasta. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. They both play a role in digestive function. Insoluble fibre can be troublesome for some IBS sufferers. You can read more about fibre here.
Golden Rule – You need about 20-40 grams of fibre per day. This will vary depending on your body. Go slowly and check for any triggers (grumbly tummy, soreness or cramping).
Steps to Recover from an IBS episode
1. Drink a warm to hot glass of water with or without apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is great for digestion and is also a prebiotic. The warm water to aid the colon to eliminate, while the warmth will soothe any soreness. Obviously this works well in winter, but maybe not for the warmer months. Sip on small amounts of room temperature water in the summer.
2. Hot water bottles. These would have to be the best invention ever given to man. The heat soothes and usually relaxes an otherwise tense stomach. You want to relax as much as you can during one of these episodes. Alternatively if you’re not a fan of hot water bottles or it’s the middle of summer then try rubbing a few drops of peppermint oil onto your stomach area.
3. Eat small meals and slowly – If you feel the need to eat or feeling hungry make sure to eat simple foods. Cooked veggies, broths or soups are ideal for winter and in summer you might try a salad or a veggie smoothie. The key here is to let your body be the guide. Eating slowly and without too much stress is also important.
4. Don’t eat any trigger foods over this time – no sugar, processed foods, dairy or high fodmap foods and no grains. Basically don’t eat any foods that are going to add to the ferment happening in your tummy. Now isn’t the time to start on cultured veg or a new supplement or introduce a challenge food.
5. Exercise – probably the last thing you feel like but light exercise such as walking, yoga, stretching or even swimming can do wonders for when you are working through these episodes. You can find some good exercises here.
6. Remember this will pass. If you are new to IBS, then yes it probably feels like it will never end and maybe, like I was before I found relief through diet and lifestyle changes, the symptoms are never ending. If this is the case look into a Fodmaps diet or read about the Body Ecology Diet. If you are a seasoned IBS sufferer with a few hiccups now and then, remember don’t beat yourself up! Sticking to any kind of eating plan is not how we were created to be (IMO), however shifting your perspective from “what I’m missing out on to what I’m doing to promote optimal health” helps to relieve those frustrations of a restricted diet.
Here’s some reading I recommend.
Hope this information was useful and helpful. Do you suffer with IBS or have any tips for recovery? Leave me a comment or send some social love.