IBS Triggers That Are Not FODMAPS, Part 2
Last updated: April 2023
Welcome to the second post in a series about non-FODMAP triggers for people living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In my last post, we reviewed non-FODMAP foods that may trigger an IBS flare-up for some people. Here, we will switch gears and look at some non-food triggers that can trigger symptoms in people with IBS.
This article is based on my experiences working with people with IBS. Please talk to your healthcare provider about any new symptoms or treatments.
Did you know that stress is one of the most common triggers of IBS flares? The gut and brain are highly connected and together, they make up the “gut-brain axis.” This means that what happens in the brain can influence your digestion.1
When you’re stressed, it’s more likely that your body is in “fight or flight” mode. This changes the way your gut and brain talk to each other. For some people, this may speed up digestion (resulting in diarrhea), while for others, it may slow down digestion (resulting in constipation).1
Regardless of which way your digestion tends to go, stress management techniques can be an important part of your “flare care” toolbox. I often have my patients take some deep breaths before eating or use a meditation app as ways to incorporate stress reduction into their days.
One study found that people with IBS are more likely to experience disturbances in their sleep. It also found that these disturbances were associated with more gut pain, worse quality of life, and poor mood.2
When I have a patient whose IBS is flaring up and they are not sure why, I ask them to take some time to reflect on their sleep habits. If they think there’s room to improve, developing a better sleep routine can help. For many people, this can include taking a warm bath, reading a book, unwinding with some relaxing music, or putting their phone away before bed.
Many different hormones, including mood, stress, and sex hormones, can influence digestion through the gut-brain connection. For example, many people find that the hormone changes that occur right before they get their period can make gut symptoms worse.1,3
While you might not be able to change your hormones, remember to be gentle with yourself during this time. Many of my patients find that using a hot water bottle or heat pack can be a great way to soothe abdominal pain and cramping.
Did you know that digestion starts in the mouth? This is achieved both mechanically (by chewing) and chemically (by enzymes in our saliva). However, most people do not chew their food well enough because they are rushing. This can worsen IBS symptoms because food is entering the stomach undigested.4
In addition, eating too quickly may result in swallowing air, which can worsen feelings of gas and bloating. For my patients who are fast eaters, often one of the biggest things they can do for their digestion is to slow down and eat more mindfully.4
Well, there you have it! While FODMAPs can sometimes be the cause of an IBS flare, they may not be the only culprit. Managing IBS and its symptoms can sometimes feel like detective work. I hope that this series on non-FODMAP IBS triggers has given you the tools you need to become your own IBS detective and figure out what is causing your symptoms.
Have you ever tried acupuncture to relieve IBS symptoms?