Jun. 29. 2018
Nutrition Articles
McKel (Hill) Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel (Hill) Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

A common issue related to your digestive tract, irritable bowel syndrome can cause bloating, gas, and more.

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, affects about 10% to 15% of the country’s adult population. However, only about 5% to 7% of people actually receive a diagnosis (1). That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with symptoms and talk to your doctor or dietitian about a plan to help you feel your best!

Many of my clients come to me with digestive issues and after uncovering their lifestyle, diet, stressors, etc., and we work together to come up with a plan that relieves those symptoms but also gets to the root cause of the issue. For some women, it’s food intolerances, for others it’s the absence of nutrient-dense foods and foods rich in probiotics or foods that nourish the microbiome, and for others, it’s stress and other lifestyle choices. If you or a friend has IBS and wants to know how to recognize symptoms, and what changes (including food choices) to make to your lifestyle to help alleviate discomfort, read more about IBS and what to be aware of.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that affects bowel function (mainly in the large intestine), meaning while nothing is anatomically wrong with the body, you’ll still experience symptoms. These symptoms include changes in bathroom habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, likely accompanied by abdominal pain and bloating.

You might also experience symptoms that have nothing to do with your digestion, including problems like muscle aches and pains, fatigue, the sudden urge to urinate, pain during intercourse or lack of libido. Women are more likely than men to get IBS, and a family history of the condition also raises your risk (1).

While IBS does not cause life-threatening issues, it can severely disrupt your everyday life, because the symptoms typically last a long period of time. However, you can learn to control IBS symptoms.

The Difference Between IBS and IBD

Though IBS does not lead to serious health concerns, irritable bowel disease (IBD) can do so. To be specific, IBD refers to digestive conditions such as Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms that set IBD apart from IBS include blood in your stool, diarrhea that wakes you up at night, unexplained weight loss, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, persistent pain, a family history of GI issues (like celiac disease, IBD, or cancer), and changes in your typical IBS symptoms (2). In these cases, it’s extra crucial that you see a doctor as these could be signs of a more serious problem.

What Are The Causes Of IBS

Unfortunately, doctors are unsure of the exact cause of IBS. However, a few factors may contribute, including (1):

  • Abnormal bowel motility (either too fast, leading to diarrhea or too slow, causing constipation)
  • Abnormal pain signals from neurotransmitters that send messages from the brain to the intestines and vice versa
  • Sensitive intestines
  • Intestinal infection
  • An overgrowth of bacteria in the gut
  • Food intolerances

A few things, though not major causes, can lead to IBS-related pain and discomfort in the gut (2):

  • Food
  • Stress
  • Hormones

IBS Treatments

The bad news: There’s no one cure-all for IBS. The good news: A few lifestyle tweaks have been shown to have a positive effect on sufferers. For example, following a low FODMAP diet—which includes cutting out certain types of carbohydrates—has helped people control symptoms (1). Slowing down your eating and avoiding overeating can also help.

One study also found that exercise can help alleviate GI problems, so make sure you’re up and moving more throughout the day (3).

Other recent research showed promising results from a home-based treatment program that involved cognitive behavioral therapy (likely because stress can bring on symptoms). The researchers’ program focused on teaching patients about the brain-gut connection, how to self-monitor symptoms, common triggers and what happens to the body after those triggers, how to control worrying, muscle relaxation and problem-solving (4).

Finally, another recent study found that vitamin D supplementation could help ease IBS symptoms (5).

Recipes that Could Help with Digestion

Following the low FODMAP diet doesn’t have to be restrictive, you can still eat delicious foods! While a low FODMAP diet may not be the answer for everyone who suffers from IBS, it may be a good start to uncover potential food triggers or intolerances with your dietitian. Here, a few recipes to try throughout your day that ddoesn’tinclude the typical FODMAP trigger foods:

Coconut Quinoa Flake Porridge
Blue Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce
Gluten-Free Bread Rolls
Avocado Grapefruit Ceviche
Turkey Avocado Greens Wrap

Note: You’ll want to use 1/8 of the avocado in these recipes, to keep it low FODMAP-friendly.

IBS: The Takeaway

Though it might be difficult to come to a diagnosis and to find treatment for your symptoms for IBS, it is possible. If you have been feeling any digestive discomfort for days or weeks, it’s time to speak to your doctor—you don’t have to live with the issue. A few lifestyle changes can help you, and I’m always here for a nutritional consultation, so we can get you feeling better through diet changes. Don’t be afraid to reach out and set up a time for nutrition coaching.

Have you experienced IBS? Have you found a way to control it? Share your experience with the community below and we can all swap ideas. Here’s to living healthier and happier!


  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” American College of Gastroenterology.
  2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Mayo Clinic.
  3. Johannesson E, Simrén M, Strid H, Bajor A, Sadik R. (2011, May.) Physical activity improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial.
  4. Lackner, Jeffrey. University of Buffalo. (2018, April.) IBS patients obtain robust, enduring relief from home-based treatment program.
  5. Claire E. Williams, Elizabeth A. Williams & Bernard M. Corfe. (2018, January.) Vitamin D status in irritable bowel syndrome and the impact of supplementation on symptoms: what do we know and what do we need to know?