Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be painful, unsettling, and, at its worst, potentially life threatening. It’s also commonly called IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) so you’ll see that term throughout this post. Both are an umbrella term that encompasses a large group of intestinal disorders that cause chronic inflammation along the digestive tract. In other words, any place from mouth to colon could be affected. It also can lead to mood disorders like depression as it can make patients withdraw from everyday life due to embarrassment. Instead of letting this disease take charge, undertaking an IBS diet can help you reduce symptoms and get back to your life.
What exactly is inflammatory bowel disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease is classified as an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the digestive tract and leaves sores and ulcers. The two most well-known and common types of IBD are ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease can attack the entire tract, but it usually affects the end of the small intestine, while UC only affects the large intestines.
In case you thought it was simple, Crohn’s also has a host of other subtypes that generally coincide with the location of the inflammation.
The major risk factors of inflammatory bowel disease
While a lot of research has been performed, medical science has not been able to pin down the exact cause of these disorders yet. There is evidence, though, that the following risk factors add to the development and exacerbation of this issue.
- Smoking: Smoking is one of the main risk factors in developing Crohn’s disease. It is probably best to quit for all the other health reasons, but avoiding Crohn’s is definitely a plus. Oddly enough, UC has not shown a link with smoking, but all the same, you should quit.
- Age: It is possible to develop IBD during any stage of your life, but it is far more likely to occur in your 20s.
- Geographical region: Those living in urban areas and industrialized countries are more likely to develop this disorder. Also, those with white collar jobs have a higher risk. It is postulated that a diet high in fat and refined foods may be the culprit.
- Hereditary: It has also been shown that you have a higher chance of developing inflammatory bowel diseases if they run in your family.
Inflammatory bowel syndrome signs and symptoms
A main issue with inflammatory bowel disease is that the symptoms won’t always be the same. It can vary quite a bit depending on where in your GI tract it is affecting and how inflamed it becomes. In general though, the following are symptoms to keep an eye out for:
- Diarrhea is almost always a symptom and it occurs when parts of the colon can’t reabsorb water, which is why the feces is in a liquid form.
- Bleeding ulcers are also a very common manifestation of IBD. These are holes in the protective lining of the intestinal wall. They can even be as severe as to produce blood in your stool, which is called hematochezia.
- Stomach pain, cramping, and bloating for long periods are also indicative of this disease. This also sometimes has an audible component that produces increased abdominal sounds.
- Weight loss is also typical as loss of appetite often happens. This is due to extreme stomach pain and fever, which leads to nausea and vomiting.
- Anemia can also occur. This condition happens when the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissue and organs and it can lead to fatigue as well as delayed growth or development in children.
Managing inflammatory bowel disease
It is important to note that some patients might have long periods where these symptoms are dormant. This can last a few weeks to several years. Although there is no cure for inflammatory bowel disease, there are treatments that can reduce symptoms and help induce long-term remission.
The best way to prevent or soothe moderate cases of inflammatory bowel disease, besides quitting smoking, is making healthy IBS diet decisions.
While there is no conclusive research that proves that a different diet will prevent the disorder, there are definitely certain foods that can aggravate symptoms. Some of the following tips are cheap and simple alternatives that can help you live a healthy, active lifestyle even during a flare-up.
The basics of an IBS diet
IBS/IBD make getting enough nutrition from food difficult and may even result in malnutrition in children. A first-line treatment for both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is changes in diet. An IBS diet may help ease symptoms and begin to repair damage to the intestine.
Some common suggestions for those with IBD is to limit the amount of dairy you intake, stick to low-fat foods, and try not to consume spicy food or alcohol. Keeping to soluble fiber can also do a lot of good, so try pears, apples, and blueberries at your next meal.
Your first step, though, should be to keep a food diary since every body is different. Many common pain trackers also have dietary pain triggers that you can record to watch patterns over time. A food tracker is a great way to identify what kinds of foods are most problematic for you.
Also, try to find some food bloggers who can help you manage your symptoms through diet changes. For instance, here is a great list of gluten free bloggers as those with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis find that they have fewer flare-ups when they eliminate gluten from their diet.
Finally, know that inflammatory bowel disease has a way of getting rid of the liquids in your system, so always make sure you are getting enough fluids. Water is your best choice for staying hydrated as caffeine can make diarrhea worse and carbonated beverages can produce a lot of gas.
Besides these basic tips, here’s other ways to create an IBS diet that helps you manage and reduce symptoms. Always work closely with your doctor before attempting any new diet plans.
Try the low FODMAPS diet
The FODMAPS diet is a go-for-broke total change that has helped many people eliminate or drastically decrease IBS symptoms. FODMAPS is an acronym that stands for carbohydrates that are:
- Oligo-saccharides: Wheat, beans, peas, and onions
- Di-saccharides: Milk of any kind
- Mono-saccharides: Fructose, specifically in apples and sugar snap peas, also honey
- Polyols: Sorbitol, xylitol, peaches, plums, mushrooms, cauliflower, and sugar-free food
A more complete list of FODMAP foods can be found on this IBS diet website.
Essentially, a FODMAP IBS diet eliminates all FODMAP-containing foods. For many people, this drastic shift in diet is just what they need to not only control IBS but to also reduce other health concerns and lose weight (if needed). If you are an all-or-nothing kind of person, this is the IBS diet for you!
When changing your diet to treat IBS, it is important to realize that the gut will not heal itself overnight. The body needs to rid itself of remnants of past diets and begin to adjust to what’s new. Going slowly and being gentle with yourself as you incorporate an IBS diet will help in the long run. Many people respond differently to different changes, so it may take a few tries before you figure out what works best for your body. Keeping a food diary can help with this process.
Remember to get plenty of rest as you make changes. Digestion and healing take a lot of energy, and fatigue doesn’t help. Always work closely with your doctor when doing a dietary overhaul like this.
Switch your fibers
Many times those with IBS may think that fiber is the best way to go when it comes to certain symptoms (e.g. constipation, gas, and bloating), but insoluble fiber like the kind found in leafy greens and lettuce may make the problem worse. The body has a hard time breaking down this type of fiber. As a result, it can make symptoms worse.
Instead, try soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that attracts water and is easier to digest. This type of fiber is found in fruits and vegetable such as apples, strawberries, pears, cucumbers, celery, and carrots. Other food such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and oatmeal are a great source of soluble fiber.
If you crave salads and leafy greens, consuming some soluble fiber first and then eating insoluble fiber in moderation may make them more well-tolerated.
Trade in your snacks
Chips, as salty and delicious as they are, can trigger IBS symptoms with their grease. It can be hard to give them up, but the processed nature of this food along with the queasy feeling they might cause make them a major IBS diet no-no.
Instead try fermented foods, particularly pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir. These may help build up good bacteria in the gut, healing inflammation and helping with digestion. If you have taken antibiotics for infection in the intestines, fermented foods can help restore good bacteria to aid with digestion. Plus, by their very nature fermented foods are partially broken down and easier to digest themselves. Forgo the chips and stick with the pickle!
Rehaul your breakfast
Gourmet, handcrafted doughnuts are popping up everywhere. These deep-fried, sugar-frosted, wheat-filled confections can be delicious in the mouth and murder on the belly. Fat, sugar, and wheat are chief inflammatory culprits, and all are difficult to digest. But they are so delicious!
Craving something sweet for breakfast but doughnuts trigger symptoms? Try something like breakfast cookies. Breakfast cookies are infinitely adaptable to what you have on hand and can feature IBS-friendly foods such as:
- Peanut butter
- Gluten-free flours
Once you have a basic formula you like, you can vary them, making double batches and freezing them.
Look into new protein sources
Vegetarians who rely on beans to get their protein may find that they experience periodic flares of IBS symptoms. Without animal protein, it may be difficult to get enough protein, but who wants to eat a handful of nuts for dinner?
First of all, it is important to understand that people in the U.S. are, in general, over-proteined. We consume far more protein than we actually need. Before you start meal planning, know how much protein you actually need, then start to incorporate firm tofu, eggs, and other types of plant-based protein.
This is not your father’s tofu; check out these 25 tofu recipes from Greatist.
What medical treatments are there for inflammatory bowel disease?
There are quite a few treatments to consider when dealing with more severe cases of inflammatory bowel disease, but medication is often the first step after an IBS diet change. Anti-inflammatory drugs are used to decrease inflammation of the digestive tract. There are also immune suppressants that stop the immune system from attacking the intestines, which can prevent inflammation. Antibiotics are also a good choice as they can be used to kill the bacteria that is triggering the body’s white cells to attack the lining of the intestine.
Surgery can also be required if the condition is severe enough. This can consist of widening the bowel, removing fistulas, and draining abscess. While surgery is usually invasive, 50% of those who suffer from Crohn’s disease will need it.
Treatments are only one aspect of ongoing care and management. If you’re suffering from IBD, it’s important to build a support structure. This can be a tough subject to bring up, especially to those you don’t know very well. It is important, however, to build a community in which you can share your challenges, ask questions, and seek emotional support. You can find some online support groups here.
If you’re suffering from severe symptoms and dietary changes haven’t helped, it may be time to talk to a doctor. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.