My IBS Arsenal: Fiber and Probiotics
Starting about five months or so after my laparoscopy to remove severe endometriosis (much of which was fusing my bowels to other organs), I noticed a drastic improvement in my IBS symptoms. I also accredited this improvement to giving up certain triggers. Namely, though I loved it, I realized coffee had to go. I also had found a website that described the relationship between diet and IBS and placed a lot of importance on soluble fiber (not to be confused with insoluble fiber--the roughage characteristic of raw vegetables). I started trying to make soluble fiber--included in foods such as oatmeal, bananas, rice--the cornerstone of most of my meals and a staple of my overall diet.
While I experienced a reprieve for a few years post-surgery from the horrible IBS flare-ups that had plagued my late college years and very early twenties and stunted my social and professional life, eventually my symptoms began to creep back up again. They then slowly increased in frequency and intensity to the point where I worried that I was doomed to regress back to pre-surgery levels of IBS pain and complications. I started to experience flares even while monitoring my diet closely and mostly staying away from prominent triggers. It was then that I realized I needed to build up my personal arsenal for IBS management.
Building the IBS arsenal
I used Google and returned to websites that explicitly cater to those who suffer from IBS, including those sites that endorsed a soluble fiber-centered diet as critical in managing the disorder. That's when I came to the understanding that even with my fairly strict diet, I was not always getting enough soluble fiber to counteract or preempt my IBS symptoms. It's difficult to always get all the nutrients one needs through diet alone, which is why many of us supplement with vitamins. This can also be applied to fiber when it comes to IBS. So, I decided to take the plunge and adopt a daily fiber regimen.
In particular, I take a heaping spoonful of soluble fiber powder in my morning tea every day. For the most part, it dissolves well and doesn't have any kind of taste. I chose a fiber that doesn't have any fillers (some have sucrose or fructose, as well as artificial colors and flavors, that can in themselves be IBS triggers) and also is highly prebiotic--meaning it promotes good gut flora. I started with a very small dose of fiber--a half-teaspoon--and then worked my way up gradually over the course of a month. This is because introducing too much fiber too soon can affect IBS negatively. This is why when I had a doctor first suggest fiber as a solution to my IBS, it didn't work well for me as he had me start off taking several large tablespoons in large glasses of water every day. It was too much too soon for my highly sensitive system. It turned out I ultimately didn't need that much fiber to regulate my GI issues, nor did I need the sugary version of fiber he had recommended.
Finally, I also decided it was crucial for me to take a high-quality probiotic daily with my fiber. A 2012 peer review study conducted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found a definitive link between an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut (specifically, the small intestines) and a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.1 And other research has shown that probiotics have some effectiveness in managing IBS symptoms as they introduce the friendly bacteria that can help fend off the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut.2,3
While I can't speak to the experience of others, I know incorporating fiber and probiotics in my daily routine has made a HUGE difference for my IBS, along with continuing to carefully watch what I eat and avoid triggers. Flare-ups for me now are relatively rare and I no longer feel as hamstrung by my IBS when it comes to living my life.
Do you read nutrition labels on the food you buy?