Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain and bloating with an alteration in bowel habits ranging from diarrhea to constipation. IBS is one of the most common causes of visits to the doctor in the United States. It affects between 10-20% of Americans, with women being 2-3 times more likely to develop IBS than men. Unlike bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, IBS is not associated with any inflammation or structural change to the intestine. Instead, IBS is caused by dysfunctional patterns in bowel motility. IBS appears to be another problem of Western society, decreasing in frequency for people removed from the influences of Western culture on their diet. It has significantly lower incidence among Asians, Africans, and Hispanics and is most common in people of northern European descent. Although there is no known cure, the symptoms can be controlled through diet and lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle changes should involve the minimization of stress, as this is a significant trigger for IBS. In one study, researchers looked at how different emotions affected muscle contractions of the colon. Even at rest, IBS patients generally had more active colons than those in the control group. Stressful emotions, such as anger, caused colon muscle contractions to significantly increase in IBS patients, while happiness reduced colonic spasms. Another study looked at how the stress caused by lack of sleep affects IBS. A significant correlation was noted between the severity of morning IBS symptoms and the quality of the previous night’s sleep. Finally, even environmental factors such as hot, humid weather can serve as stressors for IBS patients. Meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and hypnosis have all shown promise in helping IBS sufferers cope with the stresses that can trigger IBS.
Dietary changes should involve avoiding bowel irritants such as caffeine, alcohol, high fat foods, and artificial sweeteners, and incorporating the appropriate use of fiber. There are two types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble. While both types of fiber are necessary in a healthy diet, insoluble fiber can trigger severe attacks of pain and diarrhea in IBS sufferers. Insoluble fiber is rough, high-residue, and can be irritating to the digestive tract. It is found in foods such as whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and some fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fiber should be eaten in small portions, always along with soluble fiber foods. Soluble fiber, in contrast insoluble fiber, is smooth, low-residue, and soothing to the digestive tract. It is found in foods such as rice, oatmeal, cornmeal, potatoes, and some fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber should always be the first thing eaten on an empty stomach, and it should form the basis of every snack and meal.
An aid to people suffering from IBS and other digestive issues is acacia soluble fiber. This particular type of fiber regulates bowel motility, prevents spasms, and has the remarkable ability to normalize colonic activity from the extremes of either diarrhea or constipation. It can be added to any liquid or moist food; it is tasteless, odorless, grit-free, non-thickening, and gluten free. Acacia fiber helps keep the colon consistently stabilized by providing it with a regular supply of soluble fiber.