How to manage IBS in your 40s

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common gut disorder that affects roughly 11.2% of the global population

If you’re one of those living with IBS, you should be familiar with all its less-than-desirable symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, bloating, and gas.

Fortunately, there are a lot of things that can help you if you’re living with IBS.

Keep reading to find out some of the best strategies and management options that can help you live a better life!

IBS management and home remedies 

For many, simple home remedies, and changes to lifestyle and diet provide relief from IBS symptoms. However, your body will require time to adjust to these changes and it’s important to realize that no single treatment works for everyone. 

Your doctor and you will have to work together to find the best treatment plan to improve your symptoms.

You’ll also need to figure out what your specific triggers are and make lifestyle changes and take medications accordingly. There are many things that can trigger your symptoms, including emotional stress, certain foods, the presence of gas/stool, and some types of medicines. 

Lifestyle and diet changes

Here are a few top tips to help improve your IBS symptoms:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Add more fiber to your diet with foods like whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, and tea.
  • Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water each day.
  • Keep a record of what you eat so you can figure out which foods trigger your IBS.
  • Put a limit on how much cheese or milk you consume.
  • Don’t skip meals and try to eat at regular times to help regulate bowel function.
  • Try eating smaller meals more often instead of fewer and larger meals.
  • Don’t eat too quickly.
  • Identify causes of stress in your life and make strategies to combat them.
  • Try eating oats (like porridge) regularly to ease bloating and cramps.
  • To reduce diarrhea, avoid using products containing a sweetener called sorbitol.
  • Exercise more often to stimulate the intestines as well as reduce stress.
  • Eat as many homemade meals cooked with fresh ingredients as you can.
  • Avoid your “trigger” foods.

Some common food triggers for IBS include alcohol, wheat, red pepper, green onions, red wine, and cow milk. However, according to the Centre for Gastrointestinal Health, not every IBS patient reacts negatively to alcohol, so it might be a good idea to experiment with it and see if you can tolerate it. 

If you’re worried about not getting enough daily calcium, you can try getting it from other sources like spinach, yogurt, broccoli, tofu, canned salmon, and calcium supplements.  

Lastly, your doctor may also suggest you follow a low FODMAP – Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols – diet that is free of difficult-to-digest carbs like beans, wheat, and certain veggies and fruits.

IBS medications

Although there are quite a few drugs available to treat IBS symptoms, they don’t cure the condition. They’re primarily used to relieve symptoms of IBS. 

The choice of these medications depends upon whether your main symptom is constipation, diarrhea, or cramping/pain. 

Generally, medicines are reserved for individuals whose symptoms haven’t reacted to diet and lifestyle changes. 

If you do end up needing medication, your doctor will work with you to figure out the best approach for your situation.

Some of the drugs used for IBS include:

  • Antidiarrheal medications. These include drugs such as Loperamide (Imodium) and diphenoxylate-atropine (Lomotil) for those with diarrhea-predominant IBS symptoms.
  • Laxatives. These include things like Normacol and Fybogel for those with constipation-predominant IBS symptoms.
  • Antispasmodics. These drugs can reduce cramping and irregular muscle spasms by blocking the nervous system’s stimulation of the intestines — examples include hyoscine, dicyclomine, and mebeverine.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). Although the exact mechanism of TCAs in treating IBS is unknown, studies have shown these drugs to be effective in treating symptoms of pain, bowel frequency, and bloating in some people with IBS. Examples of TCAs include amitriptyline, imipramine, and desipramine.

Just make sure to follow your doctor’s recommendation and avoid self-medication when taking IBS drugs. Certain drugs like laxatives can be habit-forming if used without care!

Alternative therapies

The role of alternative therapies in improving IBS symptoms is still being researched. So it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any of the following treatments:

  • Probiotics. These are the “good” bacteria that are normally present in your intestines, and dietary supplements and foods like yogurt. Many studies have suggested that certain probiotics may improve IBS symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
  • Psychological therapies. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and gut-directed hypnotherapy for IBS to reduce stress and address the “miscommunication” between the digestive system and the brain.
  • Pelvic floor therapies. Sometimes, symptoms of IBS may be caused by an inability to defecate effectively. Pelvic floor physiotherapists can help fix this issue effectively.
  • Peppermint. Numerous studies have found that individuals taking peppermint oil capsules for their IBS reported significant improvement of their symptoms.
  • Stress reduction. Strong emotions like depression, anxiety, and stress can trigger the release of hormones like adrenaline and serotonin. These can lead to gut spasms and can “switch on” pain signals in your gut, making your mind more aware of them. This is why stress-reducing techniques like meditation and yoga can be highly effective at preventing unwanted abdominal pain and cramps.

Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan