Eloise Turner |

What's causing my IBS symptoms? 6 Common Triggers

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be triggered by a number of things. Some triggers are more commonly known (e.g. FODMAPs, fibre and fluid), but others may surprise you (e.g. sleep and stress). 

Learning to identify these triggers is a crucial step in managing your IBS. Here are some triggers that may be causing you tummy troubles:

1. Fatty Foods

Foods that are high in fat often tend to slow digestion, meaning they take a much longer time to travel through our gut. This can cause abdominal cramping, bloating, increased gas and altered bowel habits. 

Tip: try and stay away from fatty, overly processed and deep-fried foods (this will not only benefit your gut health but overall health also). 


2. Caffeine 

While some people can comfortably drink multiple cups of coffee a day, others are more sensitive. Caffeine can actually increase gut transit time, essentially speeding up the movement of food through the gut (the opposite effect of fatty foods). 

Tip: if you notice uncomfortable symptoms following your morning coffee, try minimising your caffeine intake (see table below for guidance) or opt for a caffeine-free option like matcha or herbal tea. 


3. Spicy Foods

Eating spicy foods can cause tummy issues for some people, especially those with IBS! Chilli contains a natural food chemical called capsaicin which can irritate the gut and cause uncomfortable symptoms like abdominal pain, burning sensation, cramps, and painful diarrhoea. 

Tip: if your tummy feels uncomfortable after spicy foods, you may want to rein in the chilli. Try swapping it for other delicious herbs or spices like cumin or oregano. 

4. Alcohol

Alcohol acts as a gut irritant and stimulant which can be problematic, especially for those with IBS! It reduces intestinal absorption and alters intestinal motility – the speed at which food moves through our gut, increasing the likelihood of diarrhoea. 

Tip: we’ve actually written a full blog post on how alcohol can affect the gut with some handy tips on how to avoid alcohol-induced IBS, so if you’d like to read more, click here. 


5. Stress

More and more research is coming out to show that IBS is actually a combination of irritable bowel and irritable brain. When we are stressed, our body's “fight or flight” response is activated. This increases our stress hormones, causes our hearts to beat faster, slows and even stops our digestive processes. 

Tip: we have also written a full blog post on how stress can affect the gut with some handy tips on how to manage stress and IBS, so if you’d like to read more, click here.


6. Sleep

Inadequate and poor quality sleep can impact our gut bugs (they need rest too!). It can also disrupt digestion, as well as increase inflammation and stress hormones, which all exacerbate gut issues! 

Tip: if you struggle to get your 7-8 hours of sleep per night, try limiting technology/screen time before bed, avoid eating 2 hours before sleep and limit caffeine intake to before lunchtime. 



The Bottom Line

As you can see, there are multiple factors that can trigger your gut issues. If you’re unsure what’s triggering your symptoms, we recommend consulting your GP to further investigate. If suspected to be diet-related, an Accredited Practising Dietitian can work closely with you to help identify and modify your diet accordingly.

In the meantime, you can snack on Fodbods knowing they will keep your tummy happy and allow you to live your best life. 

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