8 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hates You Right Now
There are some things you just know will send you to the bathroom—too much cheese, a spicy meal, that iffy pasta salad in the back of the fridge. But, if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (women are twice as likely as men to have IBS, per the American College of Gastroenterology), it often feels like anything and everything can cause diarrhoea, bloating, constipation, and cramps.
So what causes IBS? To be completely frank, experts really don’t know for sure. And, when examined, the GI tracts of people with IBS actually appear totally normal, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. That’s why most experts believe that IBS may be related to anything from hypersensitive nerves in the gut to changes in intestinal bacteria, says Dr. Shilpa Ravella, a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
But, whatever the deep-down underlying cause of IBS, experts have identified exactly what will trigger digestive distress in many women with IBS. Here, eight of the sneakiest reasons why your stomach is ticked off.
1/ You Eat A Lot Of Bread And Pasta
Some people automatically assume that gluten’s to blame for wheat belly, but it’s actually dietary fructans (a type of fermentable sugar) that more often cause issues in IBS sufferers, says Dr. Daniel Motola, gastroenterologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
For example, in one study of people who thought they were gluten-sensitive, fructans caused more digestive drama than gluten did. What gives? Well, the body isn’t the greatest at breaking down fructans. Once they reach the large bowel, the bacteria in your gut gobbles them up and burps up gases, and in the process, may draw more water into the colon. Enter: bloating and diarrhoea.
If you’ve got IBS, you may want to limit wheat products that contain fructans, such as bread and pasta, suggests Motola. Other eats that contain fructans include onions, garlic, cabbage, broccoli, pistachio, and asparagus.
2/ You’re A Happy Hour Regular
“The sugars contained in different liquors may vary greatly and serve as ‘food’ for gut bacteria, leading to fermentation and the creation of excess gas and bloating,” says Dr. Neilanjan Nandi, gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Drexel College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Plus, alcohol binges may harm beneficial gut bacteria. (Womp, womp.)
Moderation is key—take note of how much you can drink before symptoms kick in so you know where to draw the line, and nix any bevvies that cause you major distress from the jump.
3/ You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency
A recent study published in the revealed a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency—a vitamin that’s essential for gut health, as well as immune function—in people who have irritable bowel syndrome. The study also showed that participants who took vitamin D supplements experienced an improvement in symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Nandi recommends popping into your doctor’s office for a vitamin D screening so that your doc can provide you with the proper supplementation for your body’s needs.
4/ You Don’t Get Enough ZZZ’s
Not scoring enough shuteye can cause an uptick in IBS flares: A 2014 study published in the found that, in women with IBS, a crappy night’s sleep was associated with exacerbated pain, anxiety, and fatigue the following day. “Any disruptions to your circadian rhythm affect the microbiome (organisms) of the gut,” says Samantha Nazareth, M.D., board-certified gastroenterologist in New York City.
Practicing healthy sleep habits consistently—going to bed and waking up around the same time every day, using your bedroom for sleep and sex only, switching your cell to nighttime mode—can improve pesky IBS symptoms by keeping your gut in check, while also decreasing stress and anxiety.
5/ You’re Not Big On Exercise
Sedentary individuals are more likely to perceive their IBS symptoms as more significant than those who exercise at least three times per week, says Nandi. Besides relieving stress and anxiety, working out can increase the good bacteria in our gut, independent of diet, according to a recent from the University of Illinois. It can also stimulate normal contractions of your intestines, helping move things along if you have IBS with constipation, and slowing things down for those with IBS with diarrhea.
Strive for sweat sessions that are 20 to 60 minutes long, three to five times per week, suggests Motola. Walking, cycling, yoga, and tai chi are all great options to encourage symptom relief.
6/ You Use A Lot Of Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners that include sugar alcohols (think: mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol) aren’t absorbed very well and become fermented by bacteria in the colon, which can lead to gas, bloating, and diarrhea, says Motola. Because people with IBS may have hypersensitive nerves in their gut, they may feel the pain more severely compared to those without IBS.
Translation: It may be time to break up with diet soda and sugar-free gum for good.
7/ You’re On Your Period
For many women with IBS, symptoms tend to be worse during their period, thanks to two major female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Both can slow down the gastrointestinal tract, which means that food travels along at a slower rate. “A slower transit time means constipation and bloating, especially if you don’t take in enough fibre and liquids,” says Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of . “Researchers don’t know for sure if these hormones make the gut more sensitive, but the speeding up and slowing down of the bowel because of them might be enough to make an already sensitive bowel react.”
Start tracking your IBS symptoms as they relate to your menstrual cycle—this can help you suss out specific food and lifestyle triggers that amplify symptoms during your period, so you can make adjustments accordingly, she says. For example, try steering clear of gassy foods during the first few days of your period or exercising more if constipation’s a regular (ha) thing for you during your period.
8/ You’re Super Stressed
“Stress is a major trigger for IBS because many of us hold tension in our guts,” says Dean. “That tension causes muscle cramping and can easily escalate into an episode of IBS.” In fact, a large portion of your body’s feel-good serotonin is found in your gut, explaining why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are most commonly prescribed for the treatment of depression and anxiety, are often used in the treatment of IBS, he says.
If you’re easily stressed out or suffer from depression or anxiety, getting a handle on your mental health may come with the added bonus of easing your tummy troubles. Talk to your doctor about stress-management techniques or consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist, he says.
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