Manage your IBS this Christmas
If you suffer from symptoms of IBS, the following tips could help you to not only survive Christmas but also live a healthier and happier 2021.
For most Christmas is a wonderful time of year but a lot of us put untold quantities of pressure on ourselves to achieve the perfect Christmas Day. We can plan for weeks, if not months ahead – and yet we still tend to rush around in the days leading up to the 25th. Whilst the rushing around can be tiring and stressful for many of us, unfortunately for those who suffer with IBS, this festive season can really exacerbate their symptoms.
1Boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut
Many recent studies support the view that an imbalance of gut bacteria contributes to IBS. Fortunately, we have also seen a number of clinical trials using live bacteria supplements to support the condition. One trial published in 2018 studied 400 IBS patients who were randomised to receive either Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain or a placebo for 16 weeks and found that the Bio-Kult group had significantly reduced abdominal pain and frequency (by nearly 70%) and over 30% of participants were completely symptom free at the end of the four month trial. As well as relieving IBS symptoms, Bio-Kult was also shown to markedly improve all aspects of quality of life, including anxiety and depression.
I would suggest starting slowly with live bacteria supplements and build up gradually, especially if you have a sensitive digestive system. Taking a daily multi-strain live bacteria supplement could help to balance your gut flora, reducing bloating and abdominal cramps whilst also improving stress resilience, which could come in handy for that last-minute dash to the shops!
2Stress reduction techniques
Aside from the gastrointestinal symptoms, many people with IBS also experience mood alterations, such as anxiety, depression and feeling stressed. Our digestive system is particularly susceptible to the effects of stress because when we are frazzled we produce less stomach acid and digestive enzymes, and our gut bacteria can be negatively affected, increasing the risk of bloating and excess gas. Learning some stress reduction techniques, such as breathing exercises, mindfulness or yoga in the run up to Christmas can help you to cope with the additional stresses of this time of year. Importantly, ask others to help with all the Christmas prep – many hands make lighter work!
Before you eat a meal, sit and relax by taking 10 deep, slow breaths to encourage your body to move into parasympathetic nervous mode (“rest and digest”). A number of factors such as age, stress and eating lots of heavy meals, may mean that you are not producing enough stomach acid and digestive enzymes to properly digest your food, contributing to digestive symptoms such as bloating and gas. Consider having a tablespoon of unpasteurised apple cider vinegar in a small amount of water just before meals to help acidify the digestive tract and stimulate digestive secretions. Swedish bitters also help stimulate bile flow which we need to digest fats. For those who need additional support, a digestive enzyme supplement taken at the start of main meals may be beneficial.
Although difficult around Christmas, try to avoid overeating, as this can strain the digestive system and may mean food sits in the gut for longer, fermenting and producing gas. Consider using a smaller plate when eating to help trick your brain into realising it’s full (you can always go back for seconds if you really are still hungry). Chewing food thoroughly and putting your cutlery down between mouthfuls whilst focusing on what you are eating will also help your brain catch up with your gut and lessen your chances of digestive discomfort this festive feast.
4Sleeping for a healthier gut
Research is continuing to make strong links between how well we sleep and the condition of our gut health. Individuals suffering with gastrointestinal conditions, such as IBS, appear to have a higher prevalence of sleep disorders than the average healthy person, and it has been suggested that sleep deprivation could even be associated with the development IBS.
During the winter months we should aim to be outside as much as possible during daylight hours, spending the darker evenings relaxing and unwinding. Stick to a regular bedtime and waking time, and practise good sleep hygiene by switching off all screens at least an hour before going to bed. If your head is filled with your ‘Christmas to-do list’ during the night, keep a little notepad and pen next to your bed and write yourself a message for the morning.
In addition to a regular bedtime, we should also aim to eat set meals at the same time each day, when our bodies are more regulated; sleeping patterns, digestive function (including hunger, satiety and bowel movements) and energy levels should also become synchronised within the 24 hour light/dark cycle.
The views expressed on these pages are the views of the cited experts only and do not necessarily represent the views of Wellness Edit. Please always get a second opinion where specific medical advice is required.
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