IBS symptoms and an indulgent Christmas aren’t a good combination. Nutritional Therapist at Bio-Kult, Claire Barnes reveals five ways IBS sufferers can have a more comfortable Christmas
For most, Christmas is a wonderful time of year, gathering with friends and family, offering gifts, eating festive feasts, whilst merrily enjoying a little tipple or two.
However, many of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves to achieve ‘the perfect’ Christmas Day, planning weeks if not months ahead of the big day. And yet we still tend to rush around in the days leading up to the 25th.
this time of year can really exacerbate their symptoms
Whilst the rushing around can be tiring and stressful for many of us, unfortunately for those who suffer with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), this time of year can really exacerbate their symptoms.
This year over the festive season, those with IBS symptoms may wish to adopt the following tips to not only survive Christmas, but also embrace a healthier new year.
IBS survival tip #1 Increase your levels of beneficial gut bacteria
Much of the recent evidence now supports the view that an imbalance of gut bacteria contributes to IBS.
Fortunately, we have also seen a number of recent clinical trials using live bacteria supplements to support the condition.
One trial published in 2018, in 400 IBS patients who were randomised to receive either Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain or placebo for 16 weeks, found that the Bio-Kult group had significantly reduced abdominal pain and frequency (by nearly 70 per cent) and over 30 per cent of participants were completely symptom free at the end of the four month trial.
a daily multi-strain live bacteria supplement could help to readdress the balance of the gut flora
As well as relieving IBS symptoms, Bio-Kult was also shown to markedly improve all aspects of quality of life, including anxiety, depression and feelings of having to avoid stressful situations.
I would suggest starting slowly with live bacteria supplements and build up the dose gradually, especially in those with a sensitive digestive system.
Taking a daily multi-strain live bacteria supplement could help to readdress the balance of the gut flora, reducing bloating and abdominal cramps whilst also improving stress resilience, which could come in handy for those last-minute dashes to the shops.
IBS survival tip #2 Wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday
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.
practise good sleep hygiene by switching off all screens
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 the ‘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.
IBS survival tip #3 Use techniques to reduce your stress
Aside from the gastrointestinal symptoms, many with IBS also experience mood alterations, such as anxiety, depression and feeling stressed.
Our digestive system is particularly susceptible to the effects of stress. When we are stressed we produce less stomach acid and digestive enzymes, and our gut bacteria can be negatively affected, increasing the risk of bloating and excess gas.
Our digestive system is particularly susceptible to the effects of stress
Learning some stress reduction techniques, such as breathing exercises, mindfulness or yoga in the run up to Christmas may be useful to help cope with additional stress at this time of year.
Importantly, ask others to help with all the Christmas prep – many hands make lighter work.
IBS survival tip #4 Eat mindfully
Before eating a meal, sit and relax first by taking 10 deep and 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.
IBS survival tip #5 Avoid overeating
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 the brain into realising it’s full (you can always go back for seconds if you really are still hungry). Breaking chocolate up into multiple pieces has also been shown to encourage people to eat less.
Chewing food well and putting your cutlery down between mouthfuls whilst focusing on what you are eating (the flavours and textures) will also help your brain catch up with your gut