A common problem affecting the digestive system is a constellation of symptoms collective called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
IBS can be considered to be the common cold of the gastrointestinal tract. IBS is characterised by tremendous variation in symptoms, however, the most common ones are:
- Abdominal pain relieved by having a bowel movement (most commonly experienced on the lower left side)
- A bloated or distended abdomen (commonly relieved by bowel movement)
- Loose bowel movements that alternate with constipation
- A feeling of incomplete evacuation (often a feeling that, in spite of having a bowel motion, you have not completely emptied your bowel)
- Excessive production of gas and excessive flatulence
- Chronic constipation and difficulty in passing stools
- Small pebbly hard stools or thin pencil like stools
Many people move from one symptom to another over a period of hours, days or weeks. Many of the symptoms of IBS are dietary and lifestyle related, and a number of simple techniques can significantly improve this condition. These include:
- Increase your intake of dietary fibre. Dietary fibre is obtained from unrefined plant products. Increasing your intake of fruit, vegetables, nuts and grain products will significantly increase your intake of fibre and reduce some symptoms of IBS.
- Check for food sensitivities. Many people with IBS are also susceptible to food sensitivities, particularly grains and dairy foods. Therefore it is important to ensure that food sensitivity is not present by using an elimination diet and rechallenge program.
- Eat in a settled and quiet atmosphere. This is one of the most important principles for the treatment of IBS and all other digestive complaints. Eating on the run, while working, while stressed or engaging in arguments at mealtime have profound affect on the production of digestive juices and absorption of vital nutrients into the body.
- Don't eat when you are upset. If you are upset at mealtime, wait a few minutes or more until you are feeling calmer. Dealing with emotionally sensitive or stressful issues should also be avoided during mealtimes. Eating when you are emotionally upset increases the production of acid and slows normal stomach contractions, so that the acid rich secretions stay in the stomach longer producing severe irritation. The old practice of giving thanks before meals is an excellent way of calming your emotions and putting you in the right frame of mind for eating.
- Take a few minutes to rest quietly after meals. By relaxing after the completion of a meal, you allow the digestive process to begin in an effortless way. This small investment of time can return major benefits to digestion and general health.
- Avoid overeating. Overeating overfills the stomach and does not leave enough room for the stomach to function properly. The best practice is to eat to the point of a feeling of satisfaction without any sensation of having overeaten. It may take a bit of practice to end the meal at this point, but in a short while you'll feel much more comfortable when you end your meals. This approach to eating will also often result in a reduction of excess fat deposits.
- Avoid cold or iced drinks whilst eating. Ice cold drinks will often reduce the digestive power and abstinence from this practice brings significant relief to some people.
- Don't eat food you dislike because it is good for you . Some people consume or force their children to consume food that is actively disliked. This practice can result in digestive disorders, as the stimulation of enzyme secretion is in a large part dependent on the aroma, taste and texture of appetizing food. If you do not find the food appetizing, or even actively dislike it, you may find that your digestion is reduced. A strong dislike of a food may also indicate that you have an allergy or intolerance to that food.
- Don't talk while chewing your food. Whilst chewing and swallowing you should experience the taste, sight and smell of your food, not talking while you have food in your mouth helps to accomplish this.
- Don't eat until the preceding meal has been digested. Continuous snacking results in a continual production of digestive juices and over time this can result in a reduction of your ability to digest food. Most people should wait three to six hours between meals to allow complete digestion. If you feel like a snack during this period, make it a piece of fruit or warm beverage.