As a Naturopath, I’m not scared to talk about poo, bloated bellies, or farting. Sounds gross and like something you don’t want to talk about, but the fact is, 1 in 5 Australians will have IBS throughout their lives and need help fixing it.
Good digestion is the key to good health – a fact we’ve always innately known and this has become part of our vocabulary with old sayings such as “you are what you eat.”
If your belly isn’t happy – your body is sending you a signal that you may not be digesting and absorbing your nutrients properly. Healthy clean eating and super foods have become mainstream,, which is brilliant for health. But if you’re not digesting your food well, then you could be eating the worlds cleanest, healthiest diet, but you won’t optimize the nutrients from it, which are needed to keep your energized and prevent disease. So if you think things may not be working so well in the belly department, it’s time to listen to your body and learn about what your tummy is telling you!
- Abdominal bloating and discomfort
- Changeable bowel habits – alternating between constipation or diarrhoea.
- Stool habits change – watery, loose, nuggety, thin ribbons.
- Feeling of discomfort after eating & food sensitivities
- Feeling of urgency – needing to go to the toilet often or feeling not fully evacuated when you empty your bowels.
You don’t want to be bothered by your belly at all. A gut which is functioning well shouldn’t cause you any trouble. When you eat a meal, your food should sit well in your stomach, with minimal burping, you feel energized and clear headed for the next few hours and your abdomen stays the same size all day, not progressively getting bigger and more bloated. You should poo every day, with stools that glide out and pass easlity and after that you feel empty and like you’ve completely evacuated your bowels. Don’t feel like this? Read on!
We can learn a lot from our waste products, in fact dogs have been trained to detect early signs of cancer from smelling human urine samples! Have you noticed how after a dog or cat goes to the toilet they sniff their poo? Now I’m not suggesting you do that! But animals check out their waste because they are being their own health detectives. Your poo tells you so much about your health and is a marker of your overall wellness. Have a look in the toilet once you’ve been to the loo, your stools help you to know if your insides are working properly and if your digestion is working well.
There was a researcher who studied poo for a living at the University of Bristol, who came up with the famous Bristol Stool Guide.
Looking at your stools gives you an idea of transit time, that is, how long your food took to get from your mouth to your ahem… waste pipe. If the food transited too fast, things don’t digest well and become more liquid, if the food transited too slow, the stools get harder, dehydrated, pebbly and hard to pass. (think of a knobbly picnic chocolate bar or maltesers or nuggetty rabbit poos.)
Your poo should resemble type 3 or even better, type 4 – a smooth, sausage shaped stool that is easy to pass and maintains its shape in the toilet bowl.
Type 1 – Maltesers. this type of poo has sat around for so long in your colon that all the water has re-absorbed back into your body and left your stools hard and pebbly. These stools are hard to pass, can cause you to strain, cause haemorrhoids and leave you feeling like you’ve only passed part of what’s still in your waste pipe.
Type 2 – The ugly picnic bar: This type of poo has hung around a little too long also and it’s looking cracked and lumpy – your poor old poo is a bit drought stricken. The water again has reabsorbed back into your body from your bowel and these poos can be hard to pass. Any poo that’s been in your body too long leads to toxins, wastes and hormones re-absorbing back into your body – which makes you feel blah.
Type 3 – still a little dehydrated, but looking good.
Type 4 – the perfect poo! A smooth, sausage shaped poo, that’s easy to pass and you feel nice and empty once you’ve been to the loo is what we aspire to for poo perfection. This means your wastes leave your body in a timely manner.
Type 5, 6, 7 – these are the loose poos. Any poo that doesn’t maintain its shape in the toilet bowl is a sign that things are passing way too fast through your digestive system. You may not be digesting and absorbing your nutrients well and you may have bloating or a nervous stomach. Some of the things that trigger watery and loose poos are: too much caffeine, sugary foods, alcohol, food intolerances (the top offenders are gluten, dairy, grains, sugar) stress and anxiety.
Think of your bowels like a bike tyre – you need enough air in the tyre for you to have a smooth ride, but not so pumped up with air that it’s bumpy and uncomfortable. If your intestines are full of air, it’s like you’ve pumped up your tyres so tight, that they can’t do their usual rhythmic motion to move your food through the tubes. If your intestines are full of air, they can’t contract nicely and will start to spasm, causing pain. The bloating is from loads of air in your tubes, you may have wind, and your food is not moving through your tummy as the rate it should. If lots of air is forced through the tummy, then the contents of your poo turns to liquid – hence having runny poos – type 5,6 or 7. If you’ve got a sense of urgency – “I’ve got to run to the loo right now or I’ll have an accident” then you should seek help from a Naturopath to find out what’s triggering your issues.
Looking at your stools is only one way of diagnosing gut health, colonoscopy and endoscopy is the medical standard. This is super important to rule out serious bowel disease. If you’ve had symptoms for a long time, always visit your doctor for a check up to see if your tummy troubles need some testing. Often clients come to visit me after they’ve had a colonoscopy, which revealed nothing but Irritable Bowel, or their doctor diagnosed them with Irritable Bowel. Many people are left wondering, “so I have IBS” how do I fix it? Treatment for IBS is very specific to the person as no two people have the same type. Naturopaths excel at treating IBS as the core of our philosophy is that all health starts in the gut.
Here’s some of my top tips for getting to the bottom of your IBS. ( so to speak )
IBS Treatment Considerations
- Stress Levels and Sleep
Stress makes IBS much worse. You know the feeling of butterflies in your stomach when nervous? Stress and anxiety affect the nerves to the stomach, making it lose it’s regular digestive rhythm. Stress either speeds up or slows down the digestion and impairs the normal communication between the brain and the digestive organs. I like to use herbal medicine to reduce the stress hormones in the body, while teaching my clients some stress reduction techniques. If you’re not sleeping well, your body doesn’t get the rest it needs to regenerate the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the nervous system is responsible for good digestion. If you’re stressed and/or not sleeping well, the digestive system goes on holiday and doesn’t stick to it’s normal routine.
- Gut Flora : goodies vs baddies
Your digestive system is made up of billions of good and bad bacteria. They are both part of a normal digestive process, and normally co-exist in harmony. The good bacteria regulate digestion and elimination and play a big role in helping the immune system stay healthy. In a healthy system, the bad guys are kept in check by the good guys. Think of your digestion as your rubbish bin. Rubbish is waste, after time it starts to decompose and break down and releases gases, it can get a bit stinky and will get super stinky and start growing mould if you don’t take out the bins regularly and clean out the rubbish bin with a good disinfectant. Your digestive system is the same. It needs the rubbish to be regularly taken out and the bin needs to be clean and free of excess mould and bugs. If you have a disused vegie garden, the veggies don’t just grow beautifully if they’re unattended, but the weeds do! Weeds, and bad digestive bugs are born to survive, they’re fighters and will try to invade and take over at any cost. Unless you eat well and look after your internal environment, the bad guys muscle in and set up camp, bullying out the good guys. Then you bloating, wind, fuzzy headed, possible candida overgrowth and IBS!
One of the first things I do with my IBS patients is a good old detox: weed, feed n seed program. Using herbal medicine we weed out the bad guys and reduce their food sources (sugar, yeast, refined carbs.) Then we put back the good guys (probiotics.) Many of my clients already take probiotics, but there’s just no room for these good guys to set up camp and live in your digestive system if the bad guys already have the good camping spots. What you need to do is kill off the bad guys first, then the good guys (probiotics) will have some room to move, have babies and set up a lovely life for themselves.
Regular exercise helps the muscles of the bowel to move properly. Many of us have jobs where we sit down all day. Have you ever noticed if your IBS is better on days when you move around more, say on a weekend? If you have a sedentary job, make sure you get up and take breaks to move around every 90 minutes. Go for a quick walk around the block at lunchtime or have meetings standing up for a change.
Get moving and your bowel will be much happier.
- Food Intolerances
Often IBS is caused by an undiagnosed food allergy or intolerance. I carefully ask my clients about their diet, including food and drink and we often keep food and symptom diaries to clarify what’s really triggering the issues.
Chocolate, fatty foods, dairy foods containing lactose, alcohol and grains containing gluten are common culprits. Less common but often very powerful are artificial sweeteners – if you chew gum or have sugar free food such as diet yoghurt, protein bars/ shakes or drinks with artificial sweeteners, these are often the source of irritation causing bloating and diarrhoea.
FODMAP intolerance and Amine intolerances are other common causes of IBS. Fodmaps are a group of sugars in everyday foods that aren’t digested properly by some people with IBS, worsening their IBS symptoms.
Many people use caffeine to help them move their bowels in the morning, but too much of a good thing will irritate your bowel. Caffeine is a laxative and too much will cause the bowel to spasm, leading to cramps, urgency or loose stools.
- Follow a low glycemic index diet.
Foods high in the glycemic index have been found to adversely affect the function of the GIT. Avoid high gi foods such as white, refined pasta, breads, cereals and bakery treats, avoid super sugary foods. Eat plenty of green leafy vegies, brown rice, quinoa, meat, fish, sweet potato. An example of a hi gi breakfast is white bread with honey or jam and the low gi alternative would be sourdough brown grainy bread with avocado and salmon. A low glycemic index diet can also help reduce stress and feelings of depression.
- Sugary foods
Foods high in sugar, fructose, honey, maple syrup, rice syrup are the favourite fuel of the bad bacteria in the gut. It’s like throwing them a keg of beer and they will party! Switch to stevia – a no calorie, no sugar natural sweetener without any artificial nasties and try to cut down the sugar in your diet. One piece of fruit per day maximum and definitely no fruit juices.
- Watch your alcohol intake
Alcohol is high gi and can lead to tummy upsets and inflammation of the digestive tract. Alcohol in excess fuels bad gut bugs and can worsen bloating and cramping. Also, when you have a hang over, you generally crave sugary, high carb or fatty foods which can worsen your IBS even more – ouch!
- Raw food vs cooked food
Raw food and salads are super healthy for us and often contain the highest amount of vitamins and minerals as they haven’t been destroyed by the cooking process. Some people, however find that too much raw food flares up their IBS. Try this out by substituting your raw salad for lightly steamed vegies. You can steam them up in big quantities and store them in the fridge, ready to add your protein to. Try broccoli, beans, snow peas, cauliflower and zucchini. You may like to bake some sweet potato, capsicum, eggplant or zucchini and use these cold in salads too.
The Centre for Digestive Diseases says that Researchers have found that women with IBS may have more symptoms during their menstrual periods, suggesting that reproductive hormones can influence the course of IBS.
During pregnancy the higher levels of progesterone can slow down the digestion, leading to worsening of IBS symptoms. Drink lots of water, and make a fibre rich smoothie with chia seeds or psillium hulls in it to help your bowels.
- Drink enough water
Try to drink at least 30ml per kilo of your body weight per day. A little more if you’re really active or sweat a lot. Water hydrates the bowels and keeps the yukky nuggetty rabbit type poos at bay.
Eating friendly fibre will sooth the gut and give the good gut bacteria something to feed upon. Add some flax meal, LSA or chia seeds to your breakfast or a super foods smoothie. Adding psillium hulls or slippery elm powder to smoothies or water (start with a teaspoon a day and build up to a tablespoon) can soothe the bowels too.
These tips should assist you with your IBS. If you’re struggling to work it out on your own, seek the help of a Naturopath. They’ll help you get your symptoms under control, educate you on the best diet to suit you and help you with appropriate, safe detox and gut repair programs.
This article was taken from the Tummy Tamer e-book. The Naturopaths, Nutritionists and Doctors at Vibe Natural Health have teamed up with healthy chef and food blogger Nicole Maree to create a comprehensive guide to the natural way to help digestive problems, The Tummy Tamer. The book is a “how to guide” for common digestive complaints such as IBS, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, gut parasites, candida, leaky gut, acne, stress and food intolerances. It’s a 260 page guide to sooth your tummy troubles naturally. To find out more, click on the link below.