Living with digestive challenges due to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) can significantly impact your quality of life.
Over-the-counter solutions like antacids, laxatives, and anti-diarrhea medicines may help relieve symptoms for a time, but they’re a temporary fix. They won’t address the root of the problem—why are your symptoms happening in the first place?
As a naturopathic doctor I can tell you the problem starts in your gut. Your gut is your GI tract. It is home to trillions of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that live there, collectively known as your microbiome. From my experience, a root cause of IBS is an unhealthy microbiome and the condition is complicated by diet choices, stress, lack of exercise, and many more lifestyle factors.
Over time, the effects of poor gut health can lead to other health problems too, like occasional sleep disturbances, struggles with weight management, blood sugar management, or mood balance.
These new health problems, in turn, perpetuate further unhealthy changes in your gut. Eventually, what starts as occasional digestive distress can turn nto a chronic pain in your gut that affects you physically, socially, and emotionally.
Surprisingly, many of your daily practices and behaviors can be negatively impacting your gut microbiome and contributing to your IBS symptoms. However, I’m confident that improving your gut health and making a better home for the trillions of bacteria and microbes that live there can turn things around.
Daily Behaviors for Better Gut Health
Most of the bacteria and microbes that live in your gut are helpful. They play many vital roles in your body, including helping your immune system work optimally. However, the mix of microbes changes over time. Sometimes unfriendly bacteria or other microbes start to take over. When that happens, it can influence the health of your gut.
There’s no one magic bullet to fix an unhealthy gut. Instead, it’s essential to examine the aspects of your diet, lifestyle, and other daily behaviors that might affect it. Then, create new practices that support a happy and healthy gut.
Here are five effective strategies to start with:
- Improve your diet: The foods you eat regularly have a tremendous impact on your gut health, because they also serve as food for your microbiome. The trillions of microbes in your gut thrive on a whole foods, plant-rich diet. Sugary foods, fast foods, and highly processed foods are full of unhealthy fats, sugar, and additives that encourage unfriendly bacteria to thrive. That results in imbalance inflammation modulation and worse GI symptoms. (1)
Make it a point to eat a large variety of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes (beans) every day. Stick to whole foods that you prepare yourself, and limit sweets and less healthy foods to an occasional treat.
- Manage stress: Psychological stress impacts your gut in many ways. If you have IBS, you might notice your symptoms flare up when you’re under more stress. There’s a strong connection between your GI tract and your brain. Psychological factors, the nervous system, and muscle contractions in the gut all interact with each other. This is known as the gut-brain axis.
Too much exposure to stress leads to unhealthy changes in your digestive tract and gut. (2) And because the gut-brain axis is a two-way communication system, an unhealthy gut may further worsen symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.
Try to take time out for self-care every day, and especially when you’re feeling stressed. Go for a short walk, listen to a meditation app for 15 minutes, do some yoga or stretches, and center yourself. Not only will you feel better emotionally, but your gut will respond positively. In fact, research shows participating in mind-body therapies like yoga, meditation, or cognitive behavioral therapy reduces IBS symptoms. (3)
- Make sleep a priority: The quality of sleep is just as important as the number of hours of sleep you get. Tossing and turning all night doesn’t count toward quality sleep. Research shows people with better sleep quality have a healthier, more diverse microbiome. (4) That might be because better sleep quality promotes healthier eating choices, less stress, and other healthy habits.
Try to get in the habit of getting to bed a little bit earlier. Turn off your phone and other electronic devices with blue light and see how your digestive tract feels with fewer nighttime distractions and a little bit more sleep.
- Reduce toxin exposure: Everyday toxins are another microbiome disruptor that can lead to an unhealthy gut. Over time, they may disrupt your microbiome and worsen digestive symptoms by contributing to a condition known as leaky gut. Here, your intestinal lining becomes too permeable and food particles can leak out, causing imbalanced inflammation modulation and worsening digestive symptoms.
While some toxin exposure is unavoidable, do your best to limit your exposure to these common toxins:
- Cigarette smoke (and smoking)
- Recreational drugs
- Air pollution and car exhaust
- Heavy metals like high mercury fish, lead in water from lead pipes, or heavy metals used in the workplace.
- BPA in some plastic food and drink containers or cash register receipts
- Support your microbiome with probiotic medical foods: Probiotics are beneficial, live microorganisms, and they contain some of the same friendly bacteria and yeasts found in your GI tract. When you take them in recommended amounts, they provide health benefits.
Probiotics are a remarkable tool to help support your gut health because they support a healthy microbiome. And improving the health of your microbiome is an essential step in managing IBS symptoms.
However, not all products are created equally, especially for those with IBS. It’s vital to take a probiotic medical food that:
- Contains species and strains of bacteria that have been shown in research to improve IBS
- Is manufactured under strict quality standards.
- Is free from additives or ingredients you might be sensitive to.
- Is still effective AFTER it passes through your acidic stomach environment.
Ask your healthcare provider if you should use a medical food specifically designed for IBS. A medical food is different from regular probiotics. Medical foods are specially formulated and intended for the dietary management of a disease or condition that has distinctive nutritional needs which cannot be met through normal diet modification alone.
Ther-Biotic ProTM IBS with IBS DefenseTM is a medical food for the dietary management of IBS. It contains specific species and strains of probiotics tested to show benefits for IBS.† In clinical trials, the three probiotic strains included in Ther-Biotic Pro™ IBS Relief’s unique IBS-Defense™ formulation have been shown on average to reduce IBS symptoms and/or normalize bowel habits in individuals with IBS.†
The best way to effectively manage IBS is to try to address the root cause of the problem and get your life back. These five strategies are safe and effective, so don’t waste another day.
For additional diet and lifestyle recommendations to help manage IBS, download our IBS Protocol.
General Notice & Disclaimer: This information has been provided as educational material for use by physicians and other licensed healthcare professionals only; it is to be used as a basis for the development of personalized protocols or recommendations for their patients. The information provided herein is based on a review of current existing research; SFI Health USA does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of the information itself or the consequences from the use or misuse of the information.
- Conlon MA, Bird AR. The impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota and human health. Nutrients. 2014;7(1):17-44. Published 2014 Dec 24. doi:10.3390/nu7010017https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4303825/
- Karl JP, Hatch AM, Arcidiacono SM, Pearce SC, Pantoja-Feliciano IG, Doherty LA, Soares JW. Effects of psychological, environmental and physical stressors on the gut microbiota. Frontiers in microbiology. 2018 Sep 11;9:2013. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2018.02013/full
- Shah K, Ramos-Garcia M, Bhavsar J, Lehrer P. Mind-body treatments of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: An updated meta-analysis. Behav Res Ther. 2020 May 1;128:103462.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32229334/
- Smith RP, Easson C, Lyle SM, et al. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLoS One. 2019;14(10):e0222394. Published 2019 Oct 7. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0222394 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6779243/