Four Pillars of Gut Health
It’s no secret that the word “health” doesn’t refer to just one component of our well-being. That being said, being healthy can mean different things to different people.
You may hold health values around working out, eating a balanced meal every day, or getting enough sleep, however, when it comes to chronic illness, it can be a LOT harder to string all of these puzzle pieces together to get symptom management, especially with IBS.
IBS and gut health is an intricate problem that can feel impossible at times – identifying puzzle pieces can seem challenging, let alone piecing them together in a way that makes sense for you.
At our dietitian practice, we operate on 'Four Pillars of Gut Health' to help clients understand that there are different pieces of the puzzle that need to be considered, and all fit together differently. And I’m here today to tell you about them.
Medication management may play a role in your IBS management. There are many medications that, depending on your symptoms, may improve your IBS. Other things to consider are other medications you may be taking. Many medications can cause a number of side effects, depending on the type, dose, timing, etc. Discuss with your doctor whether the medications you are taking may cause or worsen any of the IBS symptoms you’re experiencing (e.g. bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation) and whether the side effects will subside over time. Talking to your gastroenterologist, pharmacist, and dietitian team can help you to understand which medications may be impacting your symptoms, and what medications may help to manage your symptoms is often cornerstone in IBS management.
Foods containing fermentable carbohydrates can often induce or worsen IBS symptoms. These groups of carbohydrates have the acronym ‘FODMAPS’- Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols.
It’s often not as easy as cutting out one food group, as different foods have different FODMAP contents, which often make this diet confusing. For example: apples, blackberries and nectarines are high in FODMAP’s while kiwis, raspberries and cantaloupe are low, so it’s important to have reliable resources and lists before trialing a low FODMAP diet.
Eliminating foods high in FODMAP’s for a period of time can help you to manage your symptoms, but it’s not meant for long term, as it can negatively impact your gut health. Testing each group to see which ones cause you to have gut troubles, and adding them back in to your upper tolerable levels is important for gut health. You can check out our page here where we discuss the low FODMAP diet in more detail, or talk to a dietitian to guide you through eliminating FODMAP’s safely and effectively.
Taking a probiotic daily can help to manage your IBS symptoms in certain people. Certain probiotics work better than others, so check with your doctor or dietitian to see which one will be best for you. It’s also important to feed these good bacteria with enough fiber in your diet. Aim for at least 25g of fiber per day, but remember: Start Low, Go Slow! Increasing your fiber too quickly (especially without enough water) could cause constipation, so consider adding one or two high-fiber foods to your diet every couple of days.
Mindfulness and stress management
One puzzle piece I often ask my clients about is, “what do you do to positively manage your stress?”- which, admittedly, is often returned with a blank stare. Managing stress while being mindful and present in your daily life also has a huge impact on managing your IBS symptoms. Stress management looks different for everybody, so make sure to find activities that you enjoy and that truly help you to relax. Many of my clients enjoy guided meditation, while others take 5 mindful breaths before each meal to start trusting their bodies again.
In summary, troubleshooting gut health can be complicated, and often involves considering many pieces of the puzzle at once. You may want to consider a team approach to managing your IBS and gut-related symptoms: your family doctor, a gastroenterologist, a dietitian, a mental health specialist and/or any other health care providers who can help you to reset your gut health. Remember, your IBS symptoms didn’t come on overnight, so it will take some time to get your gut back in working order. But it will be SO worth it in the end!
To read more of the Four Pillars of Gut Health series, click here:
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