Why do I have IBS?
This article was written in conjunction with Alex Rodriguez, Student Dietitian
If you’re here reading this, chances are you have some understanding of what the pesky IBS following you around day to day is. As annoying as it can be, we hope that Fodbods are helping you feel free to live your life and are starting to learn some ways of managing those symptoms.
If you've ever wondered what brings your IBS symptoms on or are simply wondering why you have IBS in the first place, this article is for you!
First things first: Confessions
Despite increasing knowledge and advances in the space of IBS research, all of our wonderful scientists are still standing in the labs with their lab coats and glasses on, scratching their heads about a confident answer for what causes IBS.
There are so many past and present factors that need to be taken into account when considering what could influence its onset, which means it is hard to find a clear answer. Not to mention, in case you didn’t already realise, the human gastrointestinal system and the entire human body are incredibly complex!
In saying that, the awesome people in lab coats have put forward a few interesting theories as to how IBS symptoms manifest. There are many, but below we discuss some of the ones the scientists are betting the most money on (metaphorically…).
Say what? Come again?
This is a fancy way of saying that your gut is a little more on the sensitive side of things.
Think of your intestines like pipes - tubes that run in a cylindrical fashion, with a hollow space in the middle for digesting matter to pass through. Within the outer layer of the ‘pipe’, lies the enteric nervous system, which is the nervous system supply to the gut.
When there is an increased fluid and gas content within the gut, the pipes/tubes need to expand to accommodate for this, which ‘presses out’ against the pipes, stimulating the nervous system. People with IBS have a gut that is slightly more on the sensitive side of things remember? Thus, this expansion causes pain and discomfort to be detected and may lead to some of the common IBS symptoms.
Another factor related to the one we just spoke about is the motility, or movement of the gut, thus its ability to propel contents through it.
People with longer or slower intestinal transit may be more likely to experience IBS-C, or symptoms in line with constipation because their gut propels contents through it much more slowly than desirable.
On the other hand, people with shorter or faster intestinal transit may experience IBS-D, or symptoms in line with loose, sudden bowel movements because their gut propels contents through it much faster than desirable.
Some people may experience symptoms synonymous with one of these subgroups, whereas others may be more likely to experience a mixture of the two.
Enhanced Gut-Brain Connection
Did you know that all humans have a ‘pathway’ that connects their gut with their brain? The vagus nerve sends messages backwards and forwards between the brain and the intestines, kind of like a messenger between two people which won’t stop talking.
People with consistent, high levels of stress and anxiety may experience heightened communication between their gut and brain, which may influence gastrointestinal motility, affect pain threshold and impair secretion of important substances from the lining of the intestines.
People with visceral hypersensitivity show increased activation of certain brain regions involved in pain modulation, or in other words, feel more pain in response to gas and water content increasing in their gut, compared to what others may feel.
Tying Things Together
If there’s one thing that we want you to leave with today, it’s that having IBS is NOT your fault! We understand how frustrating it must be for you at times, however, we want you to rest assured that 7-15% of people around the world are in similar IBS shoes as you, and are questioning where things all started.
Whilst our wonderful researchers continue to learn more and more about what influences IBS development and how we can learn to manage it better, please see an experienced dietitian to help you manage your diet and lifestyle in a way that can help you with your symptoms.
In the meantime, remember that Fodbods were created to make your IBS life easier. You can snack confidently knowing they'll keep your tummy and tastebuds happy!