What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and How to Improve Your Gut Health

Gut issues and digestive symptoms are not fun to deal with – IBS symptoms range from constipation, diarrhea to bloating, cramping, stomach pain and gas.  IBS affects 8-10% people worldwide and many people have just been dealing with it for many years and despite a bunch of medical work up, multiple scopes and consulting with different specialists, they are constantly told nothing is wrong with their bodies. 

Many of our clients seek help from a dietitian as a “last resort” after eliminating many foods and failing to find relief from their symptoms.  Dietitians can help you make sense of your symptoms and find ways to support your gut health so you don’t need to wait years to feel better !  Connect with a Gut Health dietitian nutritionist today.

We dive down into Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and how to support your gut health in this blog.

How to know if you have IBS?

IBS is one of these syndromes that have very generalized symptoms.  It is usually a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that your physician has gone through whether or not something is happening such as living with celiac disease or an inflammatory bowel issues.  Once these top issues are ruled out that you actually can test for, they usually move down the line to the functional bowel disorders and one of them is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  

Usually the criteria for diagnosing IBS is just a group of symptoms such as: 

  • “Do you 25% of the time have pain related to defecation?” 

  • “Do you more often than not in the week have abdominal pain that’s only relieved by pooping?”

  • “How long has it been going on for?”

The Importance of a Healthy Gut

Not only is the health of our digestive tract important for our brain and whole-body health, but also our mood, immunity, metabolism, and more, shared Rachel McBryan, a Registered Dietitian based in Parksville.

Because of our complex connection between our brain and our gut, if one part is not healthy the other part will be impacted. If you are emotionally and mentally unhappy, you tend to be impacted in your gut. We can further see the connection between our mind and gut when we feel “hangry” and irritable when we have not eaten in a while. Additionally, when we experience negative feelings, stress hormones can be triggered leading to a decrease in serotonin and dopamine levels. This can be reflected by the function of our gut through poor bowel movements, inflammation, and decrease in appetite. Our gut and brain are connected by the Vagus nerve, hence, the health of our gut can be influencing how our mind functions. 

Rachel highlights that our gut has trillions of microbes called “gut microbiota”. Microbes in our gut help us digest food, make vitamins, and protect us against other dangerous microbes. Furthermore, keeping our microbes healthy is important to our overall health and well-being since they also help our mood and stress levels. 

Benefits of a Healthy Gut

Registered Dietitian Tristaca Curley from Fueling with Food, shares 4 benefits of a healthy gut :

1. Mood and Mind:

The Serotonin neurotransmitter helps regulate mood, appetite, memory, and sleep. 

2. Weight Management:

Healthy gut bacteria called flora, assist in proper digestion which contributes to satiation.

3. Reduced Inflammation:

Many diseases including heart disease can begin with inflammation. What you eat can be a trigger for this inflammation. 

4. Improved Digestion: 

The healthier your gut is, the more efficient and better you will be able to digest foods that would not have otherwise been digestible by your stomach and small intestine.  

Tips for Improving and Maintaining Gut Health

The following 3 tips for maintaining a healthy gut involve consuming pro- and prebiotics, the gut-mind connection, and your diet. 

1. Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics = good gut bacteria : Some foods and beverages containing probiotics: yogurt, miso, kombucha, and kimchi.

Prebiotics = what promotes the growth of the probiotics : Some foods and beverages containing prebiotics: Garlic, onions, lentils, chickpeas, bananas, grapefruit, oats, bran, almonds, flaxseeds, and leeks.

2. Mindfulness: Eating, Stress, and Rest

Be aware of how you are feeling, your cravings, and your body’s response to fullness or hunger. Using activities that release serotonin and dopamine (i.e. exercise, hanging out with friends or family, or being surrounded by nature) are helpful. Getting adequate amounts of sleep is beneficial to your mind and gut function.

3. Diet Interventions

Eating whole foods with an emphasis on plant-based and avoiding packaged and processed foods. The low FODMAP diet can help you gain clarity around your food intolerance and better manage your digestive symptoms.


Learn how to feed your gut health to reduce IBS symptoms and inflammation

What is the low FODMAP diet and how can it help with IBS symptoms?

The low FODMAP diet which stands for “Fermentable Oligo- Di- and Monosaccharides and Polyols” is a diet that lowers the amount of fermentable carbohydrates in one’s diet – this in turn reduces bloating and water being drawn into the bowel that can cause issues like bloating, diarrhea, constipation or mixture of both.  

Working with a dietitian to eliminate these FODMAPs or lower them significantly over the course of about four to six weeks ideally not longer than that and then reintroducing these foods one by one in what’s called the challenge phase will help someone identify their triggers and what doses because ideally we want to have someone have the most variety in their diet while keeping their symptoms at bay.

*Note: FODMAPs do not cause IBS but can aggravate the gastrointestinal tract of those with a sensitive gut*

Kristen Yarker, a Registered Dietitian based in Victoria BC reviews Cobs New IBS-Friendly, low FODMAP Bread : 

YouTube video

What are some Nutrition Concerns with IBS?

The nutrients that may need to be taken a closer look at really is highly dependent on the individual so individual approaches to diet therapy is where registered dietitian would come into play.  If someone also has something going on as well like living with celiac disease or other issues there are some key nutrients that could be at play there such as iron or Vitamin B12.  Vitamin B12 specifically if someone has been on say stomach acid lowering medications for some time.

When our gut cannot properly digest foods, our brain is getting deprived of essential nutrients it requires to function efficiently and well. This is where our gut and brain connection is so important.

Relevant Resources for IBS:

  • Handout : Low FODMAP vegetarian protein list – The low FODMAP diet can be especially challenging for vegetarians since many plant based proteins are also high in FODMAPs (ie. beans, lentils, chickpea, tofu). We have created a handout with a list of low FODMAP vegetarian proteins, categorized by type and serving size to help you get enough protein in your diet.

  • Connect with a Gut Health dietitian nutritionist and start feeling better today!

Blog Contributors:

1.    Clare Douglas. UBC Food, Nutrition and Health Student

2.    Fueling with Food: Feeding Your Gut (accessed July 19 2020). Available from: https://fuelingwithfood.com/2019/09/26/feeding-your-gut/

3.    Kristen Yarker: Dietitian Reviews Cobs New IBS-Friendly Bread (Low FODMAP) (accessed July 18 2020). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_1vd6LH_Js&feature=emb_title

5.    Rachel McBryan: Gut Brain Connection (accessed July 18) 2020). Available from: https://rachelmcbryanrd.com/information/f/gut-brain-connection

5.    Jessica Roocroft. Expert Interview Series on IBS (recorded Feb 24th 2021): https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL19GfnB6-MlGmcdpbHPfnJIuFeS9hDTV-

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