Tips on how to help teens under mental stress
Even though it was first described over 150 years ago, Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) remains a clinical challenge in the medical world. It's the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition and also the most common reason for referral to gastroenterology clinics. IBS can affect one in five people at some point in their lives and has a significant impact on life quality and health care utilisation. IBS is a complex and debilitating condition for which there is no known cause. However, many doctors now agree that psychological, as well as physical factors, can trigger symptoms like bloating, cramps and unpredictable bowel movement.
Stress is now believed to be one of the most significant factors in triggering IBS, so many sufferers are experiencing even more symptoms than usual amid the current anxiety around coronavirus. Stress can accelerate the colon and slow your stomach. It is commonly perceived that females are twice as likely to be affected as males; however, studies show that men are less likely than women to report symptoms of IBS to their doctor. This has resulted in a lack of useful data.
Gastroenterologist Dr Deirdre O'Donovan says; “When I first qualified in 1996 IBS wouldn't have been given much time. But the last ten years have seen a significant shift. We have so many more stresses in our lives now. We are also living such incredibly busy lives, with more pressure, being constantly 'on', and so I see a lot more IBS. And a lot more in young teenage girls."
A diagnosis of IBS doesn't happen overnight. It can be a slow, painstaking process during which more malignant diseases are ruled out. Likewise, there is no single treatment. It's a case of trying to understand the main driving forces in each patient.
Dr Deirdre O’Donovan’s 10 facts about good gut health
Add more fibre to your diet. Become familiar with the labels on food. If a product has more than six grams of fibre per 100 gram portion, then that’s considered a high fibre product. Foods like porridge and wholegrain cereals are top of the tree, but simple changes like swapping whole grain bread for white bread can make a real difference.
Plant based foods
Help the gut to help itself by buying in a wider variety of plant based foods. Our guts are filled with good bacteria, that makeup what’s called our gut flora. By eating more fruit, vegetables and pulses we are not only eating healthily for ourselves, but we’re also ensuring our gut flora are eating healthily. To help further, avoid processed foods and choose a better alternative.
Limit red meat
Try to limit red meat, and increase the intake of fish. Red meat is fine in moderation, but eat too much and you increase the likelihood of consuming too many nitrates. This can adversely affect long term gut health.
Eat regularly. Don’t allow too long between meals, and when you eat, make sure you chew your food well before swallowing. Give your gut every chance to absorb the best nutrients it can from what you eat as the food passes through.
We all need at least six cups of water per day to stay healthy and limit high sugar content drinks
Prebiotics and probiotics
Explore the use of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are foods that can encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, such as asparagus, leek, artichoke, onions and garlic. Probiotics are products that can directly add good bacteria to the gut to help it stay healthy, such as Alflorex, which is available in chemists and health food shops.
Exercise helps the whole body, and has been shown to improve the transit time for food through your gut. If you exercise regularly, such as walking or swimming, the odds are higher that your bowel will be regular.
Reduce stress. Studies have shown that there is a link between the brain and the gut, called the gut-brain axis that runs along what’s called the vagus nerve. Emotional stress can result in bowel disturbance, as the brain releases certain endorphins that can lead to what your mother would have called “butterflies in the tummy”.
Those with irregular sleep patterns, can experience a disturbance in their gut flora as their circadian rhythm is disturbed. Taking a product like Alflorex can sometimes help.
Most importantly don’t ignore red flag symptoms that point to poor gut health. These include unexplained weight loss, persistent heartburn, a change in bowel habit or any bleeding from the back passage. Should you experience any of these, seek urgent medical help from your GP.