9 Strategies to Help Tame Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Marking World IBS Awareness Month in April, an expert from global health system
Cleveland Clinic shares tips on managing the condition and minimizing flare-ups

CLEVELAND: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be challenging to manage as triggers and symptoms differ between patients, and can even vary from time to time for the same individual. However, there are some simple strategies people can try to help manage their condition, says an expert from global health system Cleveland Clinic during IBS Awareness Month.

“IBS is difficult to manage as individuals may find that a certain food type that causes no issues on one day, can trigger abdominal pain or discomfort on the next. Additionally, stress, anxiety, travel, new medications, and negative emotions can make IBS symptoms worse. Thankfully, in many cases, modifying dietary habits, making time to exercise, staying physically active, and stress management can significantly reduce the severity and frequency of common IBS symptoms such as bloating, cramping, gas, and diarrhea,” says Cleveland Clinic gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD.

IBS is the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder and a recent meta-analysis estimated IBS prevalence at around 11.2% of the global population. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders organizes IBS Awareness Month in April, while the IBS Patient Support Group in 2019 declared 19 April as the annual World IBS Awareness Day.

There is no cure for IBS, so experts focus on helping their patients to manage the symptoms, which requires patience and discipline, says Dr. Lee. She advises her patients to keep track of their triggers and record their symptoms. “Eventually we can start to piece together what makes a difference in their IBS management,” she says.

Dr Lee adds that there is no ‘one size fits all approach’ to managing IBS, but that there are nine strategies that patients can try themselves to see which ones work for them. “With a little time and patience, you can start to identify which strategies help your symptoms and what you can realistically incorporate into your life. If you’re really stumped, a medical provider can provide more direction and tips for fostering a healthy gut,” she says.

Dr. Lee’s 9 strategies to help manage IBS

1. Pump up your protein: Try to eat protein at every meal to help prevent blood sugar imbalances that feed bad gut bacteria. Choose sustainably raised fish, turkey, chicken, nuts, beans, seeds and tofu.

2. Feast on fiber-rich foods: Enjoy high-fiber whole grains, veggies, nuts, seeds and fruit. The fiber in these foods will keep a person fuller longer, and fiber is also good for the gut.

3. Don’t be afraid of fat: Choose healthy omega-3 fats, like wild salmon, sardines, flaxseed and seaweed. Individuals can also try to include grass-fed, organic animal products and healthy oils such as olive, sesame seed and nut oils. Avoid all hydrogenated fat, like margarine, processed foods, oils and baked goods when possible.

4. Include fruits and veggies: Aim for 8 to 10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables a day — the vitamins, minerals, fiber, nutrients and antioxidants can help fight off many diseases.

5. Pass on the processed food: Do not let junk food, sodas, sugary juices and diet drinks impact on sugar and lipid metabolism. Liquid sugar calories contribute to obesity, diabetes and even heart disease.

6. Relax regularly: Try to practice meditation, deep breathing or yoga every day. Lowering stress levels can ease and prevent IBS symptoms from flaring up, along with many other health conditions that come when the body is in a constant state of stress.

7. Focus on sound sleep: Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, depression, chronic fatigue, worsen pain and raise the risk for heart disease, diabetes and a whole host of other problems. Adults should aim for seven to eight hours of restful sleep per night.

8. Exercise daily: Daily exercise, even just walking for 30 minutes, can help prevent countless health problems. For a challenge, a person could try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or strength training with weights or resistance bands. An individual should aim for 30-40 minutes of exercise, three to four times a week.

9. Test out probiotics: Try supplements that contain diverse strains of good bacteria such as lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and saccharomyces boulardii, starting slowly and noting the body’s reaction. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, miso or kimchi are rich in probiotics.

While patients can test out these strategies themselves, Dr. Lee stresses the importance of seeking medical advice if an individual suspects he or she has IBS. First, this allows the physician to exclude other possible diagnoses through tests such as stool or blood tests and a colonoscopy. Second, the patient can work closely with their doctor to determine the root cause of their specific symptoms and explore the various treatment options and diets.

About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 72,500 employees worldwide are more than 5,050 salaried physicians and researchers, and 17,800 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,500-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 22 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, including locations in northeast Ohio; southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2021, there were 10.2 million total outpatient visits, 304,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 259,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries.