One of the most challenging things about having issues with your gut health is the isolation and frustration you might feel as you navigate the path to better. It’s far more acceptable to talk about fitness, blood sugars or your mental wellbeing around the dinner table than it is to talk about your bowel movements. So all too often, we don’t talk about what we’re going through and sometimes, we might feel like we are the only ones struggling. However, it’s important to know that you’re not in this alone.
Digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome are way more common than you might expect; depending on where you live, it affects between 7 and 21% of the population1. Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by chronic abdominal pain and elimination challenges that can greatly impact your daily quality of life. Yet, it’s not uncommon for people to sweep their symptoms under the rug – or to try and go about fixing it on their own. Because of this, and because irritable bowel syndrome can have a spectrum of symptoms and root causes1, the path to better can be a frustrating one full of twists and turns.
Searching for answers
I am fond of saying that we rarely think about our digestive health until it goes awry…and then it’s all we think about. As a dietitian who works in digestive health – who has also suffered with irritable bowel syndrome - that was sort of the case with myself.
Except that I was a dietitian working with people with digestive concerns, thinking that I was so glad to not have any gut issues or food intolerances myself. And then I had my first child. In the months that followed, I developed searing pain and digestive difficulties that couldn’t be chalked up to any other cause. I was lucky, because I had a sympathetic doctor who took my concerns seriously, and the knowledge as a dietitian to take corrective action. But my clients aren’t always so fortunate.
Some may have physicians who were not receptive to their concerns. Others may have been incorrectly diagnosed as having food sensitivities and start following a restrictive diet that makes things worse. Others sift through the internet trying to find their own path forward. All too often, by the time clients come to see a dietitian, they have been to multiple practitioners, tried multiple supplements or diets and still haven’t found the relief they need. They are looking for solutions – nothing makes me happier than sense of relief and hope they express when I tell them that better is possible.
Getting to better, faster
If you are experiencing chronic digestive pain and diarrhea, don’t dismiss it – or try to go it alone. It’s so important to see your family doctor to get a proper diagnosis; digestive symptoms may be irritable bowel syndrome or something like celiac disease so you don’t want to assume you know what you are dealing with. Irritable bowel syndrome is tricky because there is no clear cut blood test to know if you have it – but there is a clear set of diagnostic criteria, known as the Rome IV Criteria. It is not uncommon for my clients to suffer with altered bowel movements for years before they come to see me. One client, who had been dealing with symptoms for 15 years, had assumed that she was gluten intolerant; when I asked her to visit her physician, it became clear that it was actually irritable bowel syndrome she was experiencing.
Once you have a diagnosis of IBS-D, the next step is to see a dietitian to help you create an individualized and holistic roadmap to better gut health. There are a number of evidence-based lifestyle, supplement and dietary approaches such as the low FODMAP diet that can be customized to suit your needs. Working with a dietitian is important, especially if you want to try the low FODMAP approach, to ensure that you don’t do further damage to your digestive health. The solution is rarely ever one thing such as avoiding gluten; it takes an integrative approach to nourish the gut-brain-microbiome connection from all sides.
It’s also important to have support, because there are so many variables involved in triggering our symptoms. Take the example of a young woman in my practice who appeared to be improving after about 8 weeks on a low FODMAP diet, until symptoms started to creep up again. At this point, it would be easy to assume that low FODMAP wasn’t working – until we dug deeper. My client had just started her university exams, and the additional stress may have been causing the spike. So we chose to continue the low FODMAP diet until exams were over; once they were finished, stress diminished and so did her symptoms.
Better IS possible
Digestive concerns are more common than ever – but it doesn’t mean that you have to live with poor gut health. Better truly is possible. In addition to proper medical care for IBS-D, I recommend a holistic approach that includes diet, stress management and a clinically-tested probiotic such as Bio-K+ IBS Control. Bio-K+ IBS Control is a proprietary blend of three Lactobacillus strains that have been shown in one clinical trial to significantly improve pain, stool frequency and consistency, and quality of life for those with IBS-D2. Alongside a holistic regimen of diet, movement and stress management, Bio-K+ IBS Control can help you find a better balance.