What is the Gastrocolic Reflex and how does it impact IBS symptoms

What is the Gastrocolic Reflex and how does it impact IBS symptoms

Grilled sandwich on a wooden plate on a blue table; what is the gastrocolic reflex

What is the Gastrocolic Reflex and how does it impact IBS symptoms

This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

 

Have you ever experienced digestive discomfort during or shortly after a meal?

We’re talking about symptoms that start in your gut, like bloating or distention, cramps, flatulence, or diarrhea.

If these symptoms pop up while you’re still eating or 15 to 30 minutes afterwards, there’s a good chance that it doesn’t have much to do with what you were eating. It’s likely due to the gastrocolic reflex that has been triggered just by the act of eating itself.

Everyone experiences the gastrocolic reflex, and it has an important part to play in digestion. In very simple terms, it’s the communication between the stomach and the large intestine. The stomach registers food coming in and senses its walls stretching to accommodate the additional volume. It then tells the gut to move things along from previous meals to make space for the new arrivals. The muscles of the gut walls contract to push the contents along their journey.

While this reaction happens for everyone, people with irritable bowel syndrome can have their symptoms triggered by this communication. The reflex may be exaggerated, creating a more intense response than necessary. In essence, the muscles contractions are more intense than your gut actually requires.

There are also a few things that can trigger a stronger than normal gastrocolic reflex. This includes eating a large meal, meals that are particularly high in fat, as well as drinking a large quantity of cold liquids.

Aside from mealtimes, the gastrocolic reflex is generally more active in the morning just after waking up. This is why many people experience their main bowel movement of the day first thing in the morning!

A group of people sitting around table full of plates of food; what is the gastrocolic reflex

The gastrocolic reflex for IBS subtypes (IBS-D & IBS-C)

With this in mind, if you experience a diarrhea predominant version of IBS (IBS-D), eating smaller, more frequent meals, staying away from high fat, greasy meals, and drinking large amounts of cold liquids could help reduce your chances of triggering symptoms.

Some medications may be helpful in dealing with an overreactive gastrocolic reflex; discuss with your doctor if this may be something for you.

If you’re more susceptible to constipation predominant IBS (IBS-C), you could use the gastrocolic reflex to your advantage to improve the frequency and predictability of bowel movements. Start your day off with a big glass of cool water along with a good-sized, healthy breakfast containing fiber and healthy fats. Some physical activity or exercise can also be helpful.

Giving yourself enough time to have a bowel movement in the morning is also important. Try not to be too rushed and allow the time to relax and use the toilet. Even just making the time to sit there, even if you don’t have a bowel movement could help your system learn and adapt over time eventually making bowel movements more frequent and regular.

 

Curious about what might be behind symptoms that pop up at other times of the day? Check out this blog post for more info!

Sources:

http://www.annalsgastro.gr/index.php/annalsgastro/article/view/156

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549888/

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What the timing of your IBS symptoms says about your triggers

What the timing of your IBS symptoms says about your triggers

Blue background, two hands up in the air holding a red alarm clock; what the timing of your IBS symptoms says about your triggers

What the timing of your IBS symptoms says about your triggers

This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

 

Have you ever experienced a sudden onset of IBS symptoms, but had no idea what triggered them?

The majority of people with IBS tend to point the finger at food for causing their symptoms, but actually figuring out the trigger is easier said than done.

Usually this means you’re looking at the last meal you ate to find the culprit… but this might not be giving accurate information. 

Remember, our digestive system is long.

Like, really long.

The small intestine is around 6 meters in length, plus an extra 1.5 meters for the large intestine.

Our food just doesn’t flow through the gut like water through a pipe, the passage is slower so that our body has time to breakdown and absorb the nutrients out of our food.

Transit time from plate to toilet can range from 10 to even 48 hours!

So what can you gather from the timing of your IBS symptoms?

White wooden table with a charcuterie board filled with sliced meats, cheeses, and fruits; what the timing of your IBS symptoms says about your triggers

IBS symptoms just after eating

If you’re having to run to the washroom within minutes of eating a meal, it’s not the content of that meal that is ready for exit.

It’s more likely due to your gastrocolic reflex being stimulated.

When you consume food, your stomach starts to stretch. This stretching is one of the triggers for the gastrocolic reflex (gastro = stomach, colic = colon/large intestine).

What it triggers are muscle contractions in the colon. These muscle contractions are meant to push along the food from previous meals to make room for what you just ate.

It’s a totally normal process, but many people with IBS have a dysregulated gastrocolic reflex.

If you need to hit the washroom soon after eating, then the gastrocolic reflex that was triggered is exaggerated and strong muscle contractions have created an everybody out situation.

What can trigger an extra-strong gastrocolic reflex? Large meals, meals high in fat, and drinking a large portion of cold fluids quickly.

If you feel like this could be an issue for you, then eating smaller, more frequent meals, making sure the fat content isn’t exaggerated, and drinking smaller but more frequent amounts of room temperature drinks, could all be possible actions to try.

Woman sitting cross-legged on a bed in front of a window stretching with her arms above her head; what the timing of your IBS symptoms says about your triggers

IBS symptoms in the morning

The gastrocolic reflex is also active in the morning just after rising. If you frequently experience symptoms first thing, it could be a combination of this plus stress.

Our stress-system gets a break while we are sleeping, but if you wake up and are immediately on edge, this could be what is triggering your IBS.

Try and incorporate some stress-reduction activities first thing, perhaps some journaling, meditation, or yoga.

On the other side, if you’re struggling with IBS-C, using the gastrocolic reflex to your benefit may help.

Drink some cool water first thing, have a good-sized breakfast with healthy fats, and move your body a bit to really get things moving.

Plus make sure to give yourself some time to use the washroom before you start with your workday. Even if you don’t go every time, creating the routine will help your body start getting use to the rhythm.

 

IBS symptoms a few hours after a meal

If your symptoms are popping up several hours after eating, then it could be that certain foods are the triggers.

Roughly 4 hours or so after a meal, the food would reach your large intestine. Certain foods have a tendency to attract water, and/or be fermented by our gut bacteria and produce gas.

For people with IBS, this normal increase in volume can cause symptoms to be triggered due to the increased sensitivity of the gut lining that many IBS-sufferers experience.

This is where it may be especially helpful to keep a food journal to see if there are any specific foods that tend to correspond to symptoms.

However, keep in mind that it’s not just the food itself; it can also be the quantity consumed that is important.

 

The bottom line

These are just a few specific times when you might experience symptoms and some reasons why they have been triggered.

But, of course, it’s not possible to outline all possibilities and also accurately identify in a blog post for general information what specifically might be happening for you.

IBS is a complex syndrome and there are many different triggers like food, stress, sleep, exercise, etc. And since every body is different, what’s a trigger for one person may not be for another.

In all these scenarios it’s recommended to work closely with someone to help you identify and manage IBS symptoms. This will allow you to understand why they may be happening, help reduce the frequency, and better be able to manage them when they do occur.

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What you need to know about IBS and dairy products

What you need to know about IBS and dairy products

Four glasses of milk in a row, women sipping out of third glass with a straw; what you need to know about IBS and lactose intolerance

What you need to know about IBS and dairy products

This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

 

A little while ago, I polled the members of my online community, IBSuccess, to see if there were any types of food they were avoiding to help reduce their IBS symptoms.

A large number of them replied that they were avoiding dairy products, and dairy avoidance is something I run across often in my practice!

It seems to be a common idea in the IBS community at large that dairy is a trigger food.

So should you be avoiding dairy products in order to improve your IBS?

 

The short answer is… no!

But keep reading for what you need to know about dairy and what to watch out for.

 

Dairy vs. Lactose

Often people are avoiding all dairy in general as a method of avoiding lactose. But these two words do not represent the same thing – and this difference is pretty important.

Dairy refers to all product originating from milk, like butter, cream, yoghurt, cheese, ice cream, and milk itself.

(FYI… eggs are not a dairy product – this is a common misconception, probably due to the fact that they are often grouped together in the grocery store! When you stop to think about it, it makes sense that it’s not dairy, right?)

Lactose is a type of sugar, or carbohydrate, that is present in some dairy products. Each lactose molecule is made up of two sugar molecules, one glucose molecule and one galactose molecule. In order to digest and absorb lactose our digestive system needs to split the lactose molecule into glucose and galactose. We need the enzyme, lactase to do this.

Lactose intolerance is when someone doesn’t produce sufficient lactase enzymes to break down the lactose being consumed. When that happens, symptoms like bloating, gas, cramps, and diarrhea can result. (Hint, this is why lactose is considered a FODMAP!)

Many people see a decrease in their natural lactase production from childhood until early adulthood. However, some people retain their higher level of lactase production throughout their lives. You can also experience a temporary reduction in lactase as a result of certain illnesses where the gut lining is damaged.

Not all dairy products contain lactose, so even if you are lactose intolerant, there are some products you are likely to be able to eat without issue.

Some people have dairy allergies – this is a reaction to a protein in dairy products (remember, lactose is a carbohydrate). For these people, an immune response can be activated which for some could result in a life-threatening reaction, like anaphylactic shock. These people need to avoid all dairy products. While lactose intolerance can produce some pretty uncomfortable results, exposure to it in sensitive people isn’t going to be life threatening.

(There is a metabolic condition where the person needs to avoid all traces of galactose – one of the sugars in the lactose molecule where the results can be life-threatening, but this is very different from lactose intolerance.)

From here on out, we are going to focus only on lactose intolerance.

Four glasses of A store display filled with rows of different cheeses; what you need to know about IBS and lactose intolerance

What dairy can I consume if I am lactose intolerant? 

Traditional Dairy Products:

Milk and yoghurt are the two big ones when it comes to lactose content. That being said, even with lactose intolerance you may find that yoghurt is digested OK as the fermentation process can improve lactose digestion. This would also count for other fermented milk products like kefir or buttermilk.

What’s also important to note is that most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of lactose, so avoiding it completely isn’t necessary. Spreading out the servings across the day can also help.

It’s estimated that lactose intolerant people can tolerate around 12-15 grams of lactose per day, which is roughly 250ml of cow’s milk. This amount could be more if the intake is spread over the day. Milk may also be digested better when it’s been included in the meal, like adding milk to mashed potatoes.

However, as mentioned before, not all dairy contains lactose, so some sources you can consume without an issue even if you’re lactose intolerant!

Butter contains no lactose, and many cheeses are also virtually lactose free. Hard cheeses like cheddar or feta and also some softer cheeses like brie or camembert are essentially lactose-free.

If you look at the nutrition label and see that there are zero grams of carbohydrates, then the cheese is lactose-free! (Lactose is a carbohydrate/sugar, remember?) And as long as the amount of carbohydrates is less than 1g per 100g of cheese, then that cheese should be OK for most people with lactose intolerance.

You can also discuss with your pharmacist about taking a lactase enzyme product. This might help your digestive system breakdown the lactose when you consume lactose-containing foods.

 

Lactose-free products:

There are also many dairy products that you can purchase that are “lactose-free”. These products usually have had the lactase enzyme added to them during production, so the splitting of the lactose molecule has been done for you!

Cow’s milk that is lactose free is virtually the same as regular cow’s milk, except that the lactase has been added. The taste may be a little bit sweeter, but the nutritional value will be the same.

Pink, orange, and white ice cream cones laid out on a table with flowers and blueberries; what you need to know about IBS and lactose intolerance

What to watch out for if your avoiding / limiting dairy products

Dairy products in general are one of the main sources of calcium in our diet. Guidelines can vary, but in general the recommended daily intake of calcium for an adult is around 950mg. For reference, 100ml of cow’s milk contains about 120mg of calcium.

Vitamin B2 is another nutrient that needs attention if you’re limiting your dairy intake.

If you go for dairy-free alternative products to things like milk and yoghurt made from products such as soy, oat, almond, etc. you want to be taking care to choose ones that are fortified with, at a minimum, calcium (at least 120mg per 100g) and vitamin B2.

You can check out this blog post for more info on calcium and non-dairy calcium rich foods.

 

The bottom line on IBS and dairy products

IBS and lactose intolerance are not one and the same, and just because you have irritable bowel syndrome does not automatically mean you need to be avoiding lactose.

Many dairy products are naturally low in lactose and can be still enjoyed by people who are lactose intolerant.

Small amount of lactose, especially when spread over the day, may be digested well by lactose-sensitive people without any symptoms.

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Should you take collagen supplements for gut health?

Should you take collagen supplements for gut health?

Cutting board with vegetables and three bowls of broth, do you need collagen supplements for better gut health

Should you take collagen supplements for gut health?

This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

Collagen – you might have heard about it over on social media, but exactly what is collagen, and do you need to take collagen supplements for gut health or irritable bowel syndrome?

 

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and is the second most abundant substance overall after water! So it is pretty darn important.

Collagen is found in our connective tissue, which means in our bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, hair, and nails. It’s the protein that gives the structure to all of these tissues.

In addition to providing structure to the body, collagen also helps maintaining healthy blood vessels and healing wounds. Most people seek out collagen for either bone and joint health or for beauty purposes (skin/hair/nails) or both!

Collagen is often used in the beauty world to claim anti-aging properties. However, the collagen particles are generally too large for the skin to absorb topically, so the positive benefits tend to be more attributable to the moisturizing properties of the product. That being said, collagen is important in maintaining skin strength and elasticity, it just needs to come from our diet instead.

Like all proteins, collagen is made up of various amino acids, which in this case are namely glycine, lysine, and proline. These amino acids need to be converted into a special form by enzymes to create collagen, a process that requires vitamin C. Therefore sufficient vitamin C is extremely important for the formation and maintenance of healthy collagen.

Other minerals such as zinc, copper, manganese, and sulphur are also cofactors for collagen production and maintenance. 

Factors negatively affecting collagen production

  • general aging –  our collagen breaks down over time
  • high sugar intake levels
  • excessive sun exposure
  • smoking / second-hand smoke
  • autoimmune disorders
  • repeated physical stress on a part of the body
Personal at a table holding a cup of broth, do you need collagen supplements for better gut health

Sources of collagen in the diet

The best source of collagen itself is through consuming something like bone broth. Bone broth is made from cooking animal bones, including the cartilage, for a long period of time so that it breaks down and turn the broth gelatinous. The yolks from chicken eggs also contain collagen.

Other ways to boost your collagen is through consuming foods rich in the cofactors needed by your body to produce healthy collagen. For example:

  • citrus or berries for vitamin C
  • salmon or pumpkin seeds for zinc
  • leafy greens for chlorophyll which is shown to increase the precursor to collagen

There are also some collagen supplements on the market, generally as a powder that can be mixed in with cold or warm liquids. Take care if you are using collagen as a protein powder in smoothies or shakes as it is not a complete protein; it could still be beneficial to add in some high quality whey powder along with it.

 

Do I need to supplement with collagen for IBS?

Are you a generally healthy person following a healthy diet? Then no, you don’t need to supplement with collagen.

The best way to ensure healthy collagen levels in your body is to consume collagen containing foods, or foods with the needed cofactors, rather than relying on a supplement.

That being said, it could be helpful to supplement with collagen during recovery from injuries or surgery.

But the most documented benefit of collagen supplementation is an improvement in skin, joint, and bone health through a reduction in pain and inflammation.

When it comes to gut health specifically, there’s not enough evidence to support collagen supplementation for IBS specifically. More research into this area is definitely needed.

First and foremost, for the average, healthy person, it is always best to start by focusing on a general healthy diet, one that is going to be giving your body naturally the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals it needs. Any supplementation should only come after this is achieved.

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How does the menstrual cycle affect IBS?

How does the menstrual cycle affect IBS?

Woman's bare torso with hand laying on belly; how does the menstrual cycle affect IBS?

How does the menstrual cycle affect IBS?

 This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

What are hormones? 

Hormones are chemical messengers in our body. They are secreted into the bloodstream and are brought to the organs and tissues where they signal for a change to take place. Only a small amount is needed for a big impact, and even a small excess or deficiency can cause issues in the body.

There are different types of hormones, from ones that are part of the digestive process, to hormones responsible for regulating growth, to those involved in sexual function.

When we think about sex hormones involved in menstruation, we mostly think about estrogen and progesterone, and this is where the bulk of IBS research has focused on thus far. However, there are several other hormones also at play during the menstrual cycle.

 

The menstrual cycle basics

Different sources may group the phases of the menstrual cycle in different ways, but here we are going to look at 4 different phases of the cycle. Average cycle length can vary, while 28 days tends to be referred to as the standard, it can range from 26 to 36 days. (If you’re far outside of this range, definitely bring it up with your primary care physician.)

 

Phase 1: Menstruation

The first phase, starting on Day, 1 is your first day of menstruation (your period). Estrogen and progesterone levels drop which is what triggers your uterus to shed the lining, or the endometrium.

 

Phase 2: Follicular Phase

The drop in these hormone levels also triggers other hormone changes, like follicle stimulating hormone, to start to be released. This hormone, true to its name, stimulates the follicles in your ovaries to start getting an egg ready. Around Day 8 estrogen begins to rise again which stimulates the thickening of your uterine lining. Shortly after, testosterone also rises (elevating your libido).

 

Phase 3: Ovulation 

Estrogen levels spike around Days 12-14 and trigger luteinizing hormone to be released. This is the start of ovulation, when the ovaries release the egg. The egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus where it is either fertilized by sperm and implants in the lining or will dissolve and pass out of the body during menstruation.

 

Phase 4: Luteal Phase

The follicle in the ovary, that once contained the egg, now releases progesterone and estrogen. This tells your body to prepare for pregnancy. While estrogen was dominant during the first half of the cycle until ovulation, now progesterone is the dominant hormone. Progesterone peaks around Day 21.

If the egg isn’t fertilized, then the levels of estrogen and progesterone drop, triggering menstruation, and the cycle starts again!

Hand holding half of a peeled mandarin, finger pointing to centre of fruit; how does the menstrual cycle affect IBS?

How does the menstrual cycle affect irritable bowel syndrome symptoms?

Estrogen and progesterone can impact our bodies beyond just our reproductive system, and so the rise and fall of these hormones throughout the month could be linked to a higher likelihood of experiencing IBS symptoms.

There are receptors for both of these hormones found in cells of the gastrointestinal tract, suggesting that the GI tract is meant to receive and react to them.

One study reported that around 40% of menstruating people with IBS found their symptoms were impacted by their menstrual cycle. However, the amount of these hormones is not different in menstruating people with IBS versus those who do not have IBS, even though the IBS symptoms appears to be more commonly triggered.

Some ways in which estrogen and progesterone have been seen to impact IBS symptoms during the menstrual cycle: 

  • Bloating and constipation tends to increase post ovulation as progesterone increases (until day before or day of menstruation)
  • Abdominal pain and diarrhea potentially increase in the days before and first days of menstruation
  • Visceral pain sensitivity may be higher during menstruation than other phases. A study using balloon distention in the colon showed that women with IBS are more aware and sensitive to discomfort during their menstruation phase
  • In general, gut transit time is slower in people who menstruate than in those who don’t (regardless of whether they have IBS) and some studies have shown that transit time is longer in the luteal phase than in the follicular phase
  • Changes in hormone levels can impact the muscle contractions of the GI tract, transit speed, and digestive hormone secretion which could affect gas production in the colon, the onset of bloating, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel movements

 

What about menopause and IBS?

Unfortunately, the data here is inconsistent. Some sources show a decrease in the frequency of IBS after menopause. Other data has reported that symptom severity may actually increase after menopause.

 

What about pregnancy and IBS?

Again, there is no consistent data for how pregnancy will impact IBS. For some, symptoms may improve, for others they may worsen.

In general, progesterone levels remain high during pregnancy, and can thus result in a higher chance of symptoms like constipation and reflux. This can be especially true during the later stages of pregnancy when there is the added pressure of the growing fetus onto the digestive organs.

Fig with a small slice out of the centre; how does the menstrual cycle affect IBS?

What can you do to improve sex hormone related IBS symptoms?

The general consensus tends to be that symptoms increase in the second half of the cycle. It could be helpful to take extra care for your diet during these times, especially known trigger foods. The good news is that you may find that you can be less strict with trigger foods during the first half of your cycle!

During this time, make sure to get enough fibre and fluids to help reduce the chance of constipation. Bowel movements are an important part of our body’s natural detoxification process and we want to be sure we are getting rid of excess hormones.

Ensure you’re eating sufficient healthy fats, from foods like nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, etc. And put extra focus on those containing omega-3 essential fatty acids like in fatty fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. Our system needs healthy fats to produce sufficient hormones.

Make sure you’re eating enough; a severe calorie restriction can throw your hormonal balance off. If you’re struggling with this, especially due to food fears around IBS symptoms flaring, make sure to reach out to a nutrition professional!

Keep a food, gut, and cycle diary to track any patterns that may appear.

Don’t forget to work on stress management – excess stress and especially long-term chronic stress can lead to hormonal imbalances. Not to mention the well-known (at least if you’ve been around here for a while!) link between stress levels and IBS-symptoms.

Look for ways to reduce stressors in your life and make sure you’re incorporating stress management practices daily. This includes things like getting sufficient sleep, moving your body, meditation, journaling, social connection, eating nourishing foods, and spending time out in nature.

 

If you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance, make sure to bring this up to your health care team and nutrition professional.

Sources:

Heitkemper, M. M., & Chang, L. (2009). Do Fluctuations in Ovarian Hormones Affect Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Women With Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Gend Med, 6(Suppl 2), pp. 152-167.

Hye-Kyung, J., Doe-Young, K., & Il-Hwan, M. (2003). Effects of Gender and Menstrual Cycle on Colonic Transit Time in Healthy Subjects. The Korean Journal of Internal Medicine(18), 181-186.

Mulak, A., Tache, Y., & Larauche, M. (2014, March 14). Sex hormones in the modulation of irritable bowel syndrome. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 20(10), 2433-2448.

Palssoon, O. S., & Whitehead, W. E. (2017, October). Hormones and IBS. Retrieved from UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders: https://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/patient-education/educational-gi-handouts/

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What you need to know about fibre and IBS

What you need to know about fibre and IBS

6 clear jars spilling nuts and seeds onto a white surface, what you need to know about fibre and IBS

What you need to know about fibre and IBS

If you are going to try any sort of supplement, always discuss with your doctor and nutrition professional first. This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

What is fibre?

Fibre is present in many plant-based foods. In general, it is the non-digestible portion of our food that ends up in our large intestine and instead is food for our friendly gut bacteria. The gut bacteria partially or completely ferment the fibre, producing gas as well as some important nutrients that your body needs. Understanding how and where to get fibre in your diet is important in general, and definitely necessary when it comes to fibre and IBS.

However, the definition can vary based on regionally specific nutrition guidelines, and in some countries (like here in Belgium), substances that act like fibre in the gut are officially grouped into the category of fibre (i.e., resistant starch).

As said, fibre is found in plant-based foods, namely:

  • Whole grains
  • Lentils and legumes
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Fibre is an incredibly important part of our diet; it helps keep our bowel movements regular and can add bulk to loose stools, as well as loosen up hard stools (sounds contradictory, but we’ll get into this more soon!). This is an important part of our body’s natural detoxification process, getting rid of toxins out of our system as well as other waste products like excess hormones. It can also have a positive effect on blood sugar levels, and increases satiation from a meal, leading to a lower likelihood of overeating.

The general recommendation (which can vary depending on a country’s nutritional guidelines, is that adults should strive for more than 25g of fibre per day, with some recommendations saying that we should be consuming at least 30g of fibre per day. Studies have shown a positive relationship between consuming 25-29g of fibre per day and a reduction in risk for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and all-cause mortality when compared to people eating less than this amount.

A bowl of salad with many brightly coloured vegetables all around, what you need to know about fibre and IBS

The categories of fibre that you should know about

There are different ways to categorize types of fibre, but the most used and most relevant when it comes to IBS is soluble and insoluble types. Foods usually contain both types of fibre at the same time but can be more dominant in one over the other.

Soluble fibre

This type of fibre will dissolve (is soluble) in liquids. In our gut it forms a gel-like substance (imagine it on a much smaller scale to the gel-like properties of chia seeds when immersed in liquid).

Soluble fibre slows the transit time of our food through our digestive system which can help stabilize blood sugar levels, keep you feeling satiated for longer following a meal, and allow adequate time for your body to absorb nutrients. Because it attracts water, like a sponge, it helps soften stool.

Soluble fibre can be found in:

  • Some vegetables & fruit
  • Oats
  • Lentils & legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Insoluble fibre

In contrast to soluble fibre, insoluble fibre does not dissolve in liquids. It helps add physical bulk to the stool and speeds up the transit time of our food through our gut.

Insoluble fibre can be found in:

  • Wheat bran
  • Rice bran
  • Fruit & vegetable skins
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Lentils & legumes
  • Whole grains

 

What’s the deal with fibre and IBS?

It was previously thought (and indeed still talked about in many spaces) that a low fibre diet could be a cause behind IBS. Because of this, a lot of health professionals still tend to advise people with IBS to increase their fibre intake. While not eating enough fibre is definitely an issue amongst the general public, it’s not quite so black and white when it comes to IBS.

Fermentability of fibre

Many types of fibre tend to be high fermentable by the bacteria in our gut. In general, this is a good thing as this keeps our gut bacteria healthy and in a good balance. However, when it comes to IBS this is likely a contributing factor to symptoms flaring up. The fibre sources that fall into this category are thus also considered part of the FODMAP-family (but not all FODMAPs are sources of fibre).

Soluble fibre tends to be highly fermentable whereas insoluble fibre tends to be low- or moderately fermentable and therefore better tolerated. It’s not necessarily a hard-and-fast rule, however, so it definitely takes time to discover what works and what doesn’t for your body.

Some examples of good sources of (low-FODMAP) fibre for IBS:

  • Chia seeds (2 tbsp = 8g of fibre)
  • Green kiwi, peeled (2 small kiwis = 6g of fibre)
  • Firm tofu (160g = 6g of fibre)
  • Oats (50g = 5g of fibre)
  • Flaxseeds (1 tbsp = 4g of fibre)
  • Raspberries (60g = 3g of fibre)
An assortment of many brightly coloured vegetables, what you need to know about fibre and IBS

Should you be supplementing with fibre for IBS?

If you are going to try any sort of supplement, always discuss with your doctor and nutrition professional first. This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.

In general, research has shown that getting sufficient fibre from your diet is more beneficial that fibre from supplementation. This is namely because our foods contain various types of fibre giving a wider range of benefits, whereas supplementation tends to be focused on specific types of fibre in isolation.

However, if you are struggling with fibre intake and experiencing a high amount of IBS symptoms, supplementation could be something to discuss with your health care team. The type of supplementation is going to be unique to the individual and what type of IBS symptoms you tend to have. Currently there is not much convincing results from research studies in order to give proper direction in IBS recommendations. 

Whether you’re starting with supplements, or just looking to increase your fibre intake with real foods, make sure to do so gradually, as a dramatic increase from one day to the next will likely result in significant digestive issues as your system isn’t used to these amounts. In addition, be sure to drink sufficient quantities of water – without proper hydration fibre can end up having the opposite effect of what is intended.

Type of fibre sources/supplements and IBS

Psyllium husk: tends to be well tolerated by people with IBS and research indicates it may be helpful for constipation.

Oats / oat bran: may be helpful for improving constipation, abdominal pain, and bloating but more studies are needed.

Flaxseeds: similar findings as with oats, up to 1 tbsp per day is considered low-FODMAP (flaxseeds are also a great plant-based source of Omega-3!).

Resistant starches: this type of prebiotic fibre tends to ferment slower throughout the entire length of the large intestine. Because of this, it may produce less gas-related symptoms. However, it hasn’t been shown to be helpful in regulating bowel movements.

Partially hydrolysed guar gum: has prebiotic properties and may be well tolerated in IBS for both constipation and diarrhea; however, more studies are needed. 

Sterculia: this non-fermentable source of fibre has gel-forming properties and may help with stool softening for constipation; however, more studies are needed.

Wheat bran: contains a high amount of fructans (a type of FODMAP) and may worsen IBS symptoms.

Wheat dextrin: no studies conducted in regard to IBS.

Inulin: highly fermentable type of fibre and may worsen gas.

Fructo-oligosaccharides & galacto-oligosaccharides (FOS/GOS): a type of highly fermentable fibre (FODMAP) and may worsen IBS symptoms.

 

The bottom line…

It’s not possible to give sweeping recommendations for fibre when it comes to IBS, regardless of the sub-type you may have. It’s always best to work with a health and nutritional professional to identify what foods will work best for you and your body.

Sources:

El-Salhy, M., Ystad, S. O., Mazzawi, T., & Gundersen, D. (2017). Dietary fiber in irritable bowel syndrome (Review). International journal of molecular medicine, 40(3), 607–613. https://doi.org/10.3892/ijmm.2017.3072 

Reynolds, A., Mann, J., Cummings, J., Winter, N., Mete, E., & Te Morenga, L. (2019). Carbohydrate quality and human health: a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Lancet (London, England), 393(10170), 434–445. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31809-9 

https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/getting-enough-fibre/

https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/fibre-supplements-ibs/ 

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