It’s a topic we’re often not comfortable talking about but if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) you know the real discomfort comes from the symptoms.
As well as cramps and constipation, sufferers can experience bloating, gas and diarrhoea, all painful and often embarrassing effects of a condition that has no panacea.
If you’re one of those in pain, you’re not alone.
“IBS develops in as many as one in five Australians at some point in their lifetime and is twice as common in women as it is in men,” according to government-backed Health Direct.
“It often develops in the late teens or early 20s and having a close relative with IBS may slightly increase your chance of having it.”
If you haven’t been diagnosed, you can use Health Direct’s symptom checker to know when you need to seek advice.
If you experience problem gastro symptoms regularly or have noticed a change in bowel habits, you should talk to your GP or a gastroenterologist about a diagnosis.
Aussie researchers have found a way to manage IBS symptoms
April is IBS awareness month across the world but it’s right here in Australia where some of the most successful research into food and IBS is happening.
A team at Monash University in Melbourne has “provided the first evidence that a low FODMAP diet improves IBS symptoms”.
What are FODMAPs?
They’re a group of carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in food – both naturally and as additives.
Monash’s Department of Gastroenterology says: “it is widely recognised that the best way to alleviate IBS symptoms is to avoid foods that contain a family of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which are poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.”
If your doctor recommends avoiding FODMAPs, there are a number of resources available to help you form some new dietary habits.
One tool helping IBS sufferers understand the low FODMAP diet and create new eating habits is Monash’s smartphone app.
Available for iOS and Android, the app contains a food guide that ranks most foods according to a traffic light system. If a food is green, it contains a low amount of FODMAPs and you can safely consume it knowing it’s unlikely to cause IBS symptoms.
Here are some reviews of the app from sufferers:
“This app gives me a tangible way of managing my symptoms. IBS is so hard to understand sometimes but when I shop according to the food guide in this app, I know I’m going to have a better time with my stomach and gut.”
“Fantastic app. It really helps to make sense of a complex problem for sufferers. A huge amount of work has gone into this.”
The researchers behind the app have also launched a low FODMAP certification system so keep an eye out for foods on your supermarket shelf bearing the logo. Here’s a list of the products already declared safe.
For more information on FODMAPs and Monash’s research visit the research unit’s blog.