Smorgasbord Health Column – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Nutrients and strategies to manage the condition

On Monday I outlined the basics of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and today a look at some of the nutrients that your intestine needs to work efficiently and also some of the triggers for the condition.

For some people the discovery that their favourite food – bread, pasta etc. is causing their discomfort, will be upsetting. We are lucky that in most cases there are alternatives and for some there is a management solution, where the food can be eaten in small amounts very infrequently.

As I do with most disease I look at three fundamental key triggers. Physical, mental and emotional. The body has one role in life and that is to survive. But stress of any kind creates a chronic condition that impacts more than your nervous system.

Think about some of your own reactions to extreme stress be it physical, mental or emotional.

  1. You stop eating and drink too much tea, coffee or alcohol.
  2. You binge eat on ice-cream, chocolate and carbohydrates.
  3. You eat irregularly and probably don’t do any exercise or drink enough fluids.
  4. You feel hyped up with cortisol the stress hormone and your heart begins to beat rapidly. Your imagination is working overtime as you pour fuel on the stress flames
  5. You feel nauseated and feel that you would not be able to keep any food down.
  6. You don’t sleep and lie awake worrying about the cause of your stress.
  7. All of the above or one that is particular to you.

Most of these will immediately have an impact on the digestive system which includes the intestines and the way they function. Within a couple of day you have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria and your body is not receiving the nutrients it requires to bet back to normal. If you have been eating at odd times and foods that are quick, easy and out of a packet, you will start to have cramps and other symptoms related to IBS.

Today I am looking at the nutrients needed to support the intestinal function but in the next post on Monday, I will be outlining some strategies to help you get back to normal function as quickly as possible. This includes some that are helpful in alleviating stress.

During this time it is key is to listen to your body and to keep notes each day on symptoms and how you feel in general. This includes any physical, mental and emotional triggers that are present on a daily basis that might be playing havoc with your body and its normal functions.

It helps to keep a food diary, as this will provide you with the blueprints for your new diet going forward. If you can look back 24 or 36 hours and spot a suspect food you can eliminate for a couple of weeks and then reintroduce. If you get the same reaction you will know to avoid this trigger in the future.

First however.. the nutritional aspect.

Nutrients needed to help support the intestinal function.

A broad spectrum of nutrients is required to enable the body to function and it is important that you eat a wide variety of foods to provide them. This is particularly important when your intestines are not working efficiently and only partially processing the food you eat.

There are blogs on some of the nutrients in the archive but here are some that you should make sure you are consuming in food rather in supplemental form, as the body is designed to extract what it needs from natural sources rather than pills.

  • Cook from scratch and avoid all processed foods including sauces, ketchups, mayonnaise etc.
  • Even the savoury kinds are full of sugar and additives that can irritate a sensitive gut.
  • You should be eating lots of vegetables, some sugar reduced fruits and lean protein.
  • Try not to eat very large meals that require a great deal of processing.
  • Smaller portions with a gap of around 2 hours minimum between eating.

Some specific nutrients and food elements that are helpful for your gut.

Calcium (helps control diarrhoea) sardines, dark leafy vegetables, sardines, tinned salmon, beans, fruit such as figs and oranges, nuts and dairy if not lactose intolerant – in which case use lactose free alternative.  Calcium needs Magnesium and Vitamin D to be absorbed efficiently.

Magnesium (helps relieve constipation) Pumpkin seeds, Halibut, beans, wholegrain rice, avocados spinach.

Vitamin D acts more like a hormone and is essential for a wide range of reactions in the body. The best source of the vitamin is direct contact on the skin for at least 45 minutes a day (not to burn) but also from specific foods such as egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon and liver. If you cannot obtain Vitamin D from sunshine then you might think about supplementing.

In Monday’s post I shared the new research that has identified Vitamin D’s role in IBS.

For fast absorption straight into the bloodstream I use a Vitamin D oral spray. I have been using throughout this winter and have noticed a marked difference in my general health.

Fibre, to slow down the digestive process and allow normal absorption of nutrients and fluids from food – all vegetables and fruit.

Iron (for energy and blood health) Green leafy vegetables, fish and meat, beans, nuts, bananas.

Also anti-bacterial agents such as green tea, garlic and onions to restrict Candida growth

Peppermint tea 60 minutes after meals to reduce the cramps, spasms and pain if you are not intolerant to peppermint. You can also use peppermint oil but it is very strong and just one drop in a large glass of water is more than enough.

You can also buy peppermint capsules that dissolve in the intestine and if you take daily may help to relieve the symptoms.

Some foods that can be hidden.

There is a link, as I have already mentioned, between certain foods and strong contender is gluten.The clue is in the name and comes from the Latin word for Glue!  It is a protein present in wheat and some other grains such as barley and rye.  Although not inherently present in other grains such as oats, they can become contaminated if they are processed in a mill that also works with wheat and the other grains. Gluten gives that elastic feel to bread dough and it also helps it rise.

I have not experienced a problem with wholegrain rice but it can be harsh on the intestines if you are going through an episode of IBS.. I suggest that you only have one or two tablespoons.  I find if I mix brown and white Basmati rice that is a gentler mix.

Grains are not just in cereals and bread but in many processed products including hamburgers, soups, sausages, processed meats, crisps and ready meals.

I have tested most of the gluten free bread available on the shelves and found that most tasted okay, but most tend to use a lot of seeds. Seeds are pretty indigestible and large varieties such as pumpkin seeds may cause you problems.

Refined Sugars are a real problem for IBS sufferers, particularly with the strong link to Candida, and it is important that you avoid refined sugar completely and also your intake of processed foods. Even savoury foods contain high levels of sugar as do breakfast cereals, jams, biscuits etc.  Here are the links to the Candida posts.


Water is important to help hydrate the body, particularly after IBS symptoms such as diarrhoea, and also to flush toxins from the body. However – you don’t need to drink litres as this will only cause a flushing effect. It will push any food you eat rapidly through the system – most vegetables an any fruit you eat have a high fluid content. If you are drinking a cup of peppermint tea after meals and other herbals such as Green Tea, you should be able to drink a glass of water when you get up in the mornings and perhaps one mid-evening after your supper has digested to achieve your 2 litres of fluid a day.

Alcohol is sugar.

I love a glass of wine or a shot of whisky but for this re-establishment of good bacteria in your intestinal system you need to give up for the six weeks. You can re-introduce in week six – just one glass and then limit intake and watch for any increase in symptoms.


Our body is a rich soup of bacteria and yeasts, many that are needed for all the processing that is taking place continuously. Probiotics are the good guys and are beneficial for your digestive system especially when it is struggling to maintain a healthy balance.

You can find in foods which is obviously the best way for your body to utilise the bacteria. And whilst I would caution the use of some commericial live yogurts that can contain too much sugar and additives you can make your own at home.

I sometimes take Kefir which is a fermented dairy combination of goat’s milk and fermented kefir grains. High in lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria and antioxidants you will find in better supermarkets and also in your local health store.

Fermented foods are your other option including pickles,Sauerkraut, pickled red cabbage etc.  Also Japanese Miso soup which anyone who is familiar with macrobiotic cooking will be familiar with. It is again fermented and made from rye, beans and usually rice or barley.

Supplemental probiotics

I do take certain specific supplements when needed and one of these is a high quality friendly bacteria including acidophilus and bifidus. Whilst food should always be the first source of the nutrients that we need on a daily basis, there are times, such as during the recovery from an illness, when additional support is needed.

I take one  capsule a day for maintenance and two when I feel I need extra help. Some must be kept in the fridge when opened and it needs to be of adequate strength. The one I use has 25billion active cultures and ask advice in the pharmacy or the health shop to find the most effective one for your specific needs.

If you are taking broad spectrum antibiotics, you either should wait until you have finished since they are designed to kill off all bacteria including any you might take in supplementation form, or you can get specifically formulated capsules that are effective when taken in conjunction with antibiotics.

Next week – A six week action plan to help reduce your symptoms long term including the physical, mental and emotional triggers.

I am happy to answer questions confidentially by email if you prefer at If your question is general and might help someone else then please include in the comments.  I hope this has been helpful.