Do you suffer from uncomfortable gut symptoms including bloating, loose stools or cramps? Whether you’ve been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or are experiencing
uncomfortable gut symptoms, this article is for you. I’ve got an alternative strategy which may be helpful.
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is described as a disorder of the gut-brain axis. Think of this like a telephone line where the gut and the brain communicate, the brain may tell the gut that food is coming and to prepare while the gut may reply with ‘we’re full, stop eating’. In those with IBS, this telephone line may be a little bit crackly and the communication may be a little unclear. This can present as pain, bloating, constipation, loose stools or a combination of some or all of these. It’s important to get an IBS diagnosis by your GP to rule out anything more serious such as coeliac disease, irritable bowel disease or bowel cancers. A common intervention for gut discomfort and IBS is the low FODMAP diet. Ideally, this would be the final port of call after other options have been ruled out but this is rarely the case. Some of you may have heard of or even tried the low FODMAP diet, an elimination diet created to help those with IBS to find their trigger foods and the level of these foods which they can tolerate.
What the heck is FODMAP?
FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable, Oligosaccharide, Disaccharide, Monosaccharide, and Polyols. These are various types of carbohydrates which may trigger symptoms in those with IBS. These fermentable carbohydrates cause symptoms in two ways:
Each person will have different trigger foods with varying tolerable levels. Ideally, this diet will be carried out with the help of a FODMAP trained nutrition professional, including an elimination phase, a reintroduction phase and development of a personalised list of tolerable FODMAP foods. This diet has been shown to improve symptoms in around 70% of cases.
Clients who come to see me have often carried out this diet alone. They have a long list of foods to avoid, have avoided a reintroduction phase, and have food anxieties, a lot of stress and
potentially a less diverse gut microbiota, all of which contribute to IBS symptoms and worse, they’re IBS may be worse than ever. While the low FODMAP diet is the most common IBS intervention, it’s not the only option.
When it comes to IBS or any sort of gut discomfort, the first response is ‘what have I eaten’ or ‘what can I cut out of my diet?’ While food can definitely be a trigger for IBS, many other lifestyle factors can play a role such as poor sleep, lack of movement and chronic stress. Often these are overlooked but could be the key to managing uncomfortable gut symptoms.
An interesting study compared the effectiveness of yoga with the low FODMAP diet in improving IBS symptoms. This study split 52 participants into two groups; the low FODMAP group followed an elimination diet and the yoga group took part in 2 weekly yoga classes both over a period of 12 weeks. At the end of the 12 weeks, participants experienced varying levels of symptoms relief. The most interesting part? Yoga was as effective at improving IBS symptoms as the low FODMAP diet! (Schumann et al. 2017).
It’s thought that the mechanism of action here is a combination of things. The movement stimulates gut muscles to move food through the system while also releasing any trapped wind (if it comes, let it go people!). The focus on the breath both brings us back to the present moment, reducing stress and bringing calmness. Yoga can also help us to get more in touch with our bodies, helping us to notice signs and sensations occurring when we’re stressed, allowing us to better manage. Yoga with twists and forward folds are best to bring energy back down and bring the attention inwards.
Of course, this is one single study with a small number of people, however, the results are quite promising along with more studies coming out showing similar results. On an anecdotal level, many of my clients have experienced the benefits of yoga when experiencing a flare-up. So, if you’ve been suffering from uncomfortable gut symptoms and changing your diet or cutting out foods hasn’t been so helpful, why not try some yoga?
You’ve got nothing to lose and have so much to gain.
About Sarah Hawkins:
This piece was written by Sarah Hawkins, a registered associate nutritionist (ANutr) and yoga teacher based in Dublin. Sarah has a special interest in gut health, IBS and improving our relationship with food. Sarah works on a one to one basis from a place of non-judgement and aims to empower clients with the tools they need to improve the health of their gut and their relationship with food. Sarah also runs online yoga classes.
For more information, you can reach Sarah on the following platforms: