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IBS, Nutrition and Mental Health

By Eimear Menton | June 19th, 2020 | Digestive Disorders, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Mental Health

There is ongoing research in the area of gut health and mental health, however, the complete understanding of this connection remains unknown. It is important that there should be a team of professionals to help you. Unfortunately, there can be a lack of recognition in adequately addressing either mental or physical health.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the digestive system. Symptoms include stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, which tend to come and go over time, and can last for days, weeks or months at a time. It’s usually a lifelong problem which can be very frustrating and can impact on your everyday life and mental health. Nutrition and mental health supports are vital in your care. Dietitians are vital members of a team to provide nutritional support in disease and symptom management. If you haven’t been referred already, ask for a referral to the Dietitian. Also, mental health staff can provide psychological support in coping with IBS.

IBS and Your Mental Health

  • Increased anxiety – the unexpectedness of symptom flare-ups or change in bowel habits, or future health diagnosis such as colorectal cancer is an ongoing worry for sufferers. The impact of the disease on day-to-day life can also be over a lifetime period. Therefore, symptom management, close monitoring and reassurance are key to reduce any anxieties.
  • Poor body image – Symptoms such as unexpected weight loss and abdominal bloating can negatively impact on your confidence of your self-image. Therefore, you may need to seek professional help and guidance to manage this.
  • Depression – Low mood is common due to the impact of the disease when it is uncontrolled. The continuous impact on quality of life can have negative effects on the individual’s mood and they can become depressed. The struggle in coping with a new diagnosis or negative news about health outcomes and how it can impact life decisions and a reduced ability to enjoy certain things. This can be closely interlinked with fatigue, which is very common. This low-energy and sluggish feeling can increase depressive symptoms.
  • Reduced confidence or embarrassment – Due to symptoms such as flatulence and incontinence. This can have negative affects on your social life. Once again, more effective management should increase your confidence by reducing embarrassing symptoms.

Dietary and lifestyle advice to manage physical and mental health symptoms?

  • Get enough sleep – This will not only attempt to tackle the physical fatigue, but reduce the anxiety and improve mood,
  • Get seen by a Dietitian to ensure you’re eating a balanced dietary intake, guiding your diet for effective symptom management.
  • Cook homemade meals and reducing processed foods whilst also avoiding any ingredients that may trigger symptoms,
  • Limit alcohol and fizzy drink intake,
  • If Diarrhoea occurs – Reduce high fibre foods when diarrhoea is common, but ensure you’re hydrated if diarrhoea is continuous,
  • If constipation occurs – Drink plenty of water and soluble fibre such as oats, linseeds and peeled potatoes. Liaise with a pharmacist if nutritional attempts are unsuccessful.
  • Limit caffeine intake to manage output.
  • Reduce identified stressors where possible to reduce your levels of anxiety,
  • Ensure you regularly do an activity you love and find relaxing to improve your mood and reduce anxieties.
  • Ensure you get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day and overall increase your activity by generally moving more and sitting less. Finding a physical activity, you love is vital to ensure you do it regularly. This will improve your energy levels, reduce stress and increase body confidence.
  • Get referred to the Continence nurse if any issues arise, to reduce any embarrassment when incontinent or to reduce anxiety when in work, on holidays or out socialising.

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About Eimear Menton

IBS, Nutrition and Mental Health
Eimear Menton is a student Dietitian, originally from the Republic of Ireland but currently living in Burnley. She has completed a BSc in psychiatric nursing with 4 years fulltime nursing experience in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. She has also completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Food, Nutrition and Health and has completed her 1st year of a Masters in Dietetics. She is the student officer for the BDA’s mental health specialist group and a member of BDA Yorkshire branch, sports nutrition group and public health nutrition health group. She is passionate about a variety of areas of nutrition and enjoys sharing this interest with others, whilst promoting the interconnection of nutrition and mental health.

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