Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects 1 in 5 of us at some point in our lives and it usually first develops when a person is between 20 and 30 years of age.  Around twice as many women are affected as men.

Not so long ago, the only answer you got from a doctor about your IBS symptoms would be “It’s in your head, it’s stress. Try to relax.” But in the last few years, lots of possible origins of IBS have been discovered. Some recent research suggests that irritable bowel syndrome may indeed be triggered by your own brain.

A recent study has proven that traumas play a very important role in the development of IBS. Be it in childhood or adulthood, the way your brain reacts may trigger IBS symptoms.  How is that even possible?

Well, I discovered that there is a natural phenomenon called the brain-gut connection.  In short, your brain controls your digestive system, they send messages to each other. It seems that under stressful circumstances, like experiencing a trauma for example, wrong messages are sent. For people with IBS, the messages are wrong most of the time. These messages are sent through neurotransmitters, one of them being serotonin. Most of the serotonin in your body actually resides in your gut. Studies have showed that IBS-C sufferers had too low serotonin levels, and IBS-D sufferers had too high serotonin levels.

Here’s another interesting finding: people with IBS have a different brain structure than normal patients! How incredible is that? It is not known if the differences are here before the disease appears, or if they develop with the symptoms. So a plausible theory would be that IBS sufferers react badly to traumas, eventually their brain starts changing, serotonin levels become abnormal, and symptoms appear. With time, as the patient keeps thinking about his or her IBS, the symptoms get aggravated.

But if the origin of IBS indeed does reside in our brain, what can we do about it? Surely we cannot operate! Well, luckily there are some answers. Managing the way you handle stress is key if you are experiencing IBS. However, while you are changing the way you respond to stressful situations, the NHS suggests some things you can do to relieve the physical symptoms you might be experiencing.

  • Have regular meals and take your time when eating
  • Try not to miss meals or leave long gaps between eating
  • Drink at least eight cups of fluid a day – particularly water and other non-caffeinated drinks, such as herbal tea
  • Restrict your tea and coffee intake to a maximum of three cups a day
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol and fizzy drinks you consume
  • Reduce your intake of resistant starch (starch that resists digestion in the small intestine and reaches the large intestine intact), which is often found in processed or re-cooked foods
  • Limit fresh fruit to three portions a day – a suitable portion would be half a grapefruit or an apple
  • If you have wind (flatulence) and bloating, it may help to eat oats (such as oat-based breakfast cereal or porridge) and linseeds (up to one tablespoon a day)