If you’re living with IBS, you aren’t alone. IBS NHS figures show that around 12% of the population have irritable bowel syndrome, and it’s one of the most common problems behind GP and A&E visits.
IBS can present with wide-ranging symptoms, like constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, excessive wind, and stomach cramps. But these issues are also associated with other things, like viruses, a change in routine, or medication. So it’s not surprising it can be a challenge to get a definitive IBS diagnosis and the correct follow-up treatment.
IBS NHS treatment and why gut health matters:
Often, if you ask your GP for help with IBS symptoms, medications like laxatives, loperamide (aka Immodium), or Buscopan are prescribed, but the underlying cause is sometimes neglected. Treating the symptoms rather than the root of the problem can leave you trapped in a constant cycle of constipation, diarrhoea, and tummy pain. You might feel like you’ll never have a normal bowel movement again!
And it’s not just the everyday inconvenience of multiple trips to the loo and painful cramps and bloating to worry about. Suffering from IBS means constant inflammation in the gut, which can lead to malabsorption (read more about this in our dedicated blog here). An inflamed gut is also associated with: autoimmune diseases, weight gain, insulin resistance, poor energy, sleep and libido, reduced brain function, and depression. All the things you don’t want! And DEFINITELY something you need to keep on top of. But IBS NHS advice may not be enough to get your gut back into tip-top condition again.
What’s going on in your gut?
To understand the cause of IBS and gut inflammation, let’s take a deep dive into how your gut works. Inside your bowel, you’ll find a single layer of specialised epithelial cells held together by something called tight junction proteins. Together, the tight junction proteins and epithelial cells control what passes into the bloodstream from your digestive system.
It’s a tricky job because vital nutrients need to be able to enter your bloodstream. But, environmental toxins and antigens need to be stopped from passing out of your digestive system into the rest of your body.
The epithelial cells and junction proteins should be tightly knitted together to allow them to filter everything coming into the gut. If they become weakened, large compounds, such as proteins from food, bacteria, and lipopolysaccharides (fatty sugars that can trigger an almighty autoimmune response), can sneak through the gut wall lining into your bloodstream. Heard of “leaky gut”? This is it!
Once these compounds get into your bloodstream, they trigger your immune system. This leads to the formation of immune complexes, that get stuck in joints and tissues and cause pain. Or it might produce inflammatory molecules called cytokines that can disrupt the function of all your organs. Either way, you’ll end up with inflammation in your body and the IBS symptoms you hate.
You won’t find that background info on the IBS NHS page! But it’s crucial to understand this, so you realise that to feel better again, you need to get your gut inflammation under control and help strengthen the bond between the epithelial cells and junction proteins. So, where should you start?
Ways to heal your gut and tackle IBS NHS sites don’t mention:
Don’t constantly firefight the side effects of an inflamed gut. Instead, take proactive steps to improve your digestive health that will help you feel empowered and hopefully start you on the road to recovery. Here’s what to do:
1. Get rid of gluten (and anything else inflammatory)
Gluten is a mixture of proteins that makes bread and other baked goodies elastic, springy, and, let’s face it, delicious. Unfortunately, its chemical structure also makes it difficult for the body to break down, so small protein fragments are left over. Many people are sensitive to these fragments. This can cause stomach irritation and increase intestinal permeability, aka the leakiness of your gut.
Try eliminating gluten from your diet for a month and see how you feel. There are loads of yummy gluten-free alternatives available now. Even mainstream supermarkets have pretty extensive ranges, so it’s easier than you might think. If your IBS symptoms improve, it might be time to wave goodbye for good.
You could also try cutting out other foods that can trigger inflammation, like dairy and refined sugar. Make sure you stop consuming them one at a time, or you won’t know what you’re sensitive to! Studies (and even IBS NHS advice) suggest that drugs like aspirin and NSAIDs (Ibuprofen), and alcohol can also damage the gut lining. So it’s best to limit them too.
2. Make probiotics a priority
Probiotics are a brilliant way to increase the amount of ‘good’ bacteria in your gut. Boosting your levels of the right bacteria supports and strengthens the epithelial barrier in your gut. This helps reduce gut inflammation and the triggering of your immune system.
IBS NHS advice on probiotics is quite broad, but according to nutrition expert Tanya Borowski some strains are particularly effective in treating leaky gut. She recommends taking Cultrelle because it contains lactobacillus rhamnosus, or Biome Barrier, packed with gut strengthening goodies.
3. De-stress yourself
Everyone knows stress is no good for you, and you can add gut health to the list of reasons to make space for chill time! Studies have shown that chronic stress can stunt the growth and compromise the health of your gut barrier, leading to an increase in gut permeability.
Try some simple breathing exercises a couple of times a day to calm yourself. Taking just 10 minutes 3 times a day can make a real difference. Regular exercise, writing down your worries, and walks in nature can also help release pent-up tension. Our blog on coping with stress has more ideas.
4. What IBS NHS advice doesn’t tell you – add enzymes and polyphenols to your diet
Poly- what? Found naturally in foods like berries, flaxseed, carrots, black olives, and olive oil, polyphenols are compounds full of anti-oxidants. Eaten regularly, they encourage the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in your gut, which supports your gut barrier AND helps reduce inflammation.
You should also consider taking digestive enzymes before you eat. Just one little capsule can help your body completely break down proteins, complex sugars, and starches. Taking the load off your gut and reducing intestinal inflammation. IBS NHS recommendations on reducing symptoms don’t mention enzymes, but taking the right ones works wonders. Make sure the enzymes you take contain protease (to break down proteins (including gluten!) amylase (starches), lipase (fats), and lactase (helps get rid of lactose in dairy).
5. Super supplements to help repair your gut:
Gut supporting supplements are a must to kickstart your journey back to gut health. Collagen should be top of your list because it contains the amino acids proline and glycine, essential for the body to repair damaged intestinal lining. Pop on a Collagen Plus patch every day to get the maximum benefit. It will also keep your skin looking fresh and healthy – a welcome side-effect!
Zinc can help to stabilise gut mucosa and stimulates healing and repair in the GI tract. There’s also evidence that zinc can protect the gut from NSAIDs and other medications. Finally, don’t forget B vitamins and vitamin D, they both help support the growth of good bacteria in the gut. The Multivitamin Plus patch has both, plus zinc. The ideal way to get all your gut-supporting goodies in one go. Be gone IBS, hello healthy gut and better overall wellbeing.