Bowel discomfort is a very common health concern and it is often associated with issues of the digestive tract, otherwise known as the gut.
It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the discomfort. In fact, there’s a myriad of possible culprits, including food allergies, hormonal imbalances, disruptions in metabolism and more. For this reason, seeing your doctor may be the only way to accurately identify the true cause.
However, before you do so, why not learn more about bowel discomfort and the simple lifestyle adjustments you can make to manage it? Hey, it might just save you a trip to the doctor!
Read on as we go through the potential causes behind bowel discomfort and dive into one of the most common bowel-related conditions, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Bowel discomfort is a perfectly normal occurrence and can be experienced by even the healthiest of people. It isn’t automatically indicative of serious health concerns, as there are things we do on a regular basis that we do not realise may exacerbate this issue.
You may be experiencing bowel discomfort due to:
• Trapped gas
• Food poisoning
• Lactose intolerance
• Irritable bowel syndrome
These things can happen on occasion when you eat too quickly, consume too much food in one sitting, sleep too soon after meals, unintentionally eat foods you're allergic to or foods that have gone bad, don’t drink enough water, or eat too much of one kind of food at the expense of a well-rounded diet.
Fortunately, these common causes of bowel discomfort can usually be treated at home by changing a few simple everyday habits, which we’ll get to shortly. First, let’s take a closer look at what IBS, a digestive problem that affects 3 out of every 10 Australians, is.
Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS or ‘irritable colon’, affects the the large bowel and although uncomfortable, it’s not usually a life-threatening condition. However, the symptoms can sometimes be debilitating, with many people who experience moderate to severe symptoms reporting to have a poorer quality of life.
There are three main types of IBS, with different symptoms and stool types:
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include:
• Abdominal pain and discomfort
• Stomach bloating
• Chronic diarrhoea or constipation
• Alternating between diarrhoea and constipation
• Mucus in one's stools
• Feeling like you haven’t fully emptied your bowels even after having a bowel movement
To determine whether your issues point to IBS or another condition, you can consult with your doctor. They may reach a diagnosis following a full medical check-up involving blood tests, stool tests, a sigmoidoscopy (wherein a small tube is used to investigate the bowel lining), or a colonoscopy (wherein a tube with a camera is used to investigate the bowel area while the patient is under sedation).
IBS symptoms can be triggered by certain kinds of food. While food allergies rarely result in IBS, people who suffer from the condition experience worse symptoms when they eat specific foods and drinks, including dairy products, wheat, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk, and fizzy drinks.
Another IBS trigger is stress. IBS sufferers experience worse symptoms when they are undergoing a lot of stress (although stress itself is not thought to be the cause of IBS).
Here are some lifestyle changes you can follow to help reduce IBS symptoms:
Consider stress-relief techniques such as meditation, talking about your concerns to a trusted friend or family member, or with a mental health expert. Psychological therapy and gut-focused hypnotherapy are also suggested treatments for patients of IBS. Additionally, follow a healthy sleeping and eating routine, as stress is exacerbated by lack of sleep and not eating well.
Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day can help make stools easier to pass. Be sure to avoid fizzy drinks such as sodas, or caffeinated and alcoholic drinks, as these may worsen IBS symptoms, particularly diarrhoea.
Staying active can both relieve stress, and help in keeping one's bowel motions regular. Try walking for just thirty minutes a day to help address potential health concerns.
Eating more protein may help prevent blood sugar imbalances that result in the growth of bad bacteria in the gut. Protein sources include fish, turkey, nuts, beans, chicken, seeds, and tofu.
High-fibre diets ease bowel discomfort by being easily digestible, leaving little waste for the gut to get rid of and helping to address constipation. Consume foods such as apples, papaya, oats, whole grains, legumes, and leafy vegetables in order to fulfil your body’s dietary need for fibre.
Incorporate more fruits and vegetables in your daily meals. Fruits and veggies are rich with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other nutrients that help address gut conditions.
If you’re experiencing indigestion, bloating, or diarrhoea, you might want to avoid fatty foods (think red meats, fried foods, processed snacks and sugary treats) as they stimulate colonic contractions which frequently lead to bowel discomfort.
Also avoid foods that are high in lactose and fructose as they can cause intestinal gas production, which again, causes more discomfort.
If you’re dealing with IBS, it’s a good idea to stay away from:
• Gassy foods
• FODMAP foods, meaning foods with sugars that are poorly absorbed by the small intestine, like dairy-based milk, beans, lentils and onions
Adequate zinc levels are required to help maintain healthy body functions such as supporting digestive health. When digestive health is maintained, your body has better defences against the common gut-related issues like IBS.
Taking probiotics to support the digestive system can also be beneficial, among with a host of other benefits such as the maintenance of a healthy bowel and colon, promotion of good gut flora and help to stimulate a healthy immune system.
Curcumin is a cousin to ginger and contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that contribute to healthy digestion and overall digestive system health. This supplement is worth exploring if you would like to address ongoing bowel discomfort or IBS symptoms.
In the event that you still feel discomfort for a prolonged period of time, despite trying to treat the condition at home, seek professional advice from a gastroenterologist.
If you’re looking for supplements for IBS that will help you deal with the discomfort, Vitable has a personalised vitamin subscription box that delivers to anywhere in Australia. Pair these with a healthy diet, exercise and daily hydration, and make sure you’re giving your body what it needs to maintain a healthy bowel.
Take our quiz and let us help you find the right vitamins for your health goals, lifestyle and diet. It’s time to feel good like you should!
Find out more about other areas that the supplements for IBS can help you with:
*Always read the label and follow directions for use. If you experience any symptoms or if symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.