IBS Awareness Month: Simple ways to ease symptoms including sauerkraut and supplements

Over half of us Brits find talking about bloating and general gut health “embarrassing”. But sufferers of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) know only too well that things don’t always, ahem, run smoothly.

Dr Samantha Gill, a specialist gastroenterology dietitian, explains that tell-tale signs of the condition include “pain, bloating, wind, as well as changes in bowel habits,” and adds, “some people experience constipation, for others it might be diarrhoea, or a mix of the two.”

It affects 12 million people in the UK and symptoms vary hugely from person to person. To mark IBS Awareness Month this April, here’s how to keep your gut happy and healthy…

What is the gut?

It’s a long tube that starts at your mouth and ends at your anus. Also known as the gastrointestinal tract, it processes food and drink from the moment you consume it to the moment the body absorbs or excretes it. Spread out flat, it would cover an entire tennis court! 70% of your immune system is located in your gut and an unhealthy balance in its microbiome impacts your whole body.

Why your gut is a mood changer

The gut is the largest sensory organ in the body – and has the second biggest collection of nerves, after the brain. This direct connection between the gut and the brain is called the gut-brain axis.

“IBS is a disorder of this gut-brain axis – where the communication between the gut and brain is not working as it should,” explains Dr Samantha.

So how we feel emotionally can influence the sort of physical symptoms we get. It works the other way round too. What’s happening in your gut can influence your mood – it’s actually where 80% of the feel-good hormone serotonin is produced.

Good and bad bacteria

There are 10 times as many bacteria in the gut than cells in the body. The “good” bacteria plays an important role, breaking down food and manufacturing vitamins. However, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) causes cramps, bloating, wind and diarrhoea or constipation associated with IBS.

This careful balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria can be upset by antibiotics, stress or excessive alcohol consumption. But probiotics and prebiotics can redress the balance, outperforming many medicines in stimulating a beneficial gut microbial community, according to experts.

Probiotics – good bacteria – can be found in live yoghurt, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, and food supplements like Symprove. Prebiotics feed this good bacteria and can be taken in supplement form or found in foods such as asparagus, bananas, berries, tomatoes and garlic.

When to see a GP

“Constipation is often caused by not eating enough fibre or drinking enough water,” says GP Dr Rob Hicks. “Speak to your doctor if you have changes in your normal toilet habits lasting more than three weeks.” If you have blood in your stools or abdominal pain or bloating that doesn’t go away, get it checked. Although it’s probably down to gas, bloating can be a sign of ovarian cancer. Your doctor may suggest an elimination diet to identify food triggers if IBS is diagnosed.

‘I was in agony – now I help my whole family stay healthy’

Alexandra Burke, who had a baby with boyfriend Darren Randolph last year, shares her struggles with IBS

When were you diagnosed with IBS?

I didn’t get diagnosed by my GP until 2021 but she could tell what was wrong in the first five seconds of our conversation.

My main symptom was the agony I was in because of the severe cramping pain. I assumed it was period pain. The bloating was really bad too.

Did you notice any triggers?

Stress was definitely a big cause for me, and anxiety, which I’ve suffered from for many years now.

What impact was IBS having on your day-to-day life?

It was horrendous. If you’re not feeling well and not feeling good within yourself, it has a massive effect on whatever you’re doing. For me that was performing. I’d pray that people couldn’t tell how I was feeling during a show.

Did you ever have to cancel work?

No, I never cancelled any shows but it was very difficult for me to put my smile on and get out there when in discomfort.

What has helped ease the symptoms?

Exercise and meditation – that helped clear my mind. I also began taking a water-based probiotic called Symprove before I was pregnant. It’s been life-changing.

In what way?

My pregnancy was fantastic – I had no IBS symptoms throughout and I haven’t suffered since either. I’ve been told that’s why my baby has no digestive issues, like reflux. So now my whole family takes it.

This IBS Awareness Month, Alexandra Burke has partnered with water-based probiotic Symprove to encourage more open conversations around IBS symptoms


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