Today I want to talk about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). If you don’t know, IBS is a condition that affects the digestive system and can cause stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. There is no known cure for IBS, which means that for many of us it is a life long problem. I’ve suffered from IBS since I was about 15. Back then I did very little exercise, I ate fatty, processed foods every single day and I lived off fizzy drinks from the school cafe and not enough water. I started to make changes to now where I am the fittest and healthiest I have ever been. I exercise frequently, I eat well (most of the time) and I have followed all of the NHS top tips for managing IBS for years. Has it gone away? Has it chuff. This is why I am dedicating a post to IBS. IBS is something that has a huge impact on people’s lives and there is a misconception that drinking some green tea and living a ‘healthy’ lifestyle can cure all your ailments. Sadly not. I want to talk about IBS in relation to mental health and how it impacts confidence and training.
The first time I had a serious bout of IBS I honestly thought I was dying. I was out with my Mum and Stepdad in London and couldn’t walk due to the pain. I was doubled over in agony. The second time I have a serious bout of IBS, I was actually in hospital having an operation. They thought I was in labour. Nope, just in need of a massive poo. This sounds amusing, but trust me it wasn’t. The pain was crippling. Since then I have had numerous incidents like this. It’s not always agony but I never have consistent bowel movements (we are way past the TMI stage so I am not even sorry). I thought changing my diet would help. Nope. I thought training would help. Again, no. Nothing that the Doctor has given me has helped and, to be honest, I’ve been pretty mugged off with it.
It wasn’t until I started doing my research I found there was a link between IBS and anxiety/depression that I began to question whether my struggle with mental health issues was the route of my toilet troubles. I couldn’t tell you whether it is or isn’t. It has never been explored by a Doctor and tablets for my mental health have not solved my IBS struggles, but it definitely an interesting correlation to consider and something I am actually quite convinced by. Are pro/prebiotics to answer to all of my troubles? Hmm…
You know what this means guys, LET’S GET SCIENCE-Y!!
IBS: The Science.
One the NHS site, one of the top tips for helping IBS symptoms is to try and find ways to relax, with stress being one of the causes of IBS flare ups. This makes sense when one considers recent scientific developments. There are lots of studies surrounding IBS at the moment linking it with depression and other mental illness due to the gut-brain axis. Basically, the studies are still in their very early days, but there is a belief that gut microbes could be linked to what goes on in the brain. Studies have suggested that signals generated by the brain also influence the gut so basically, what is going on in your head can have an impact on the microbes that live in your intestines. To put things simply, the gut and the brain influence each other and therefore IBS can make you feel more anxious and depressed. . This is because the colon is controlled by the nervous system, which is impacted by stress. Not to mention mental stress also has an impact upon the immune system, which of course can also play a huge role.
Studies have revealed that up to 90% of those people who seek treatment for IBS also suffer from anxiety and/or depression. Although there is no cure for IBS, recent studies are looking into use prebiotic as a way to settle the IBS and thus help control mental illness. Now, a study published in Gastroenterology suggests that taking a probiotic supplement may provide relief from IBS and depression.Interesting, right? I should, however, point out that the product was created by Nestle. No prizes for guessing who sponsored the research… Nestle of course. The study also only included 44 people and other studies that have been conducted have not yet produced anything concrete.
IBS, Training and Confidence.
This is all well and good Jamie, but I still haven’t been to the loo in 3 days and I look like I’m about to give birth to twins.
Trust me, I feel you.
IBS sucks. You know that advert where they’re like ‘it’s a mild discomfort, like a knotting feeling…’? Yeah. That one. It’s a load of rubbish. I have never felt pain like it and when I am not in pain, I’m bloated and uncomfortable.
As someone who trains and whose very business is pretty reliant upon this, having crippling pain and a pretty much constant bloat is not ideal. And I am not just talking a little bit of a bloat, I’m talking when is the baby due? sort of bloat. My belly swells up and is rock solid for weeks and weeks on end, with toilet time being very inconsistent and difficult throughout. When you don’t know when you’re going to need the loo urgently you don’t really want to be jumping around and doing squats. Also, what’s the point in training when you’re going to look 6 months pregnant most of the time anyway? I know it is a bad mentality and of course I still continue to train, however, the thought does cross my mind. It has a huge impact of my confidence and self esteem, which is certainly not help by already existing anxiety. When I consider that there is a link between IBS and mental health, this constant stress about my IBS just seems like a counter productive self-fulfilling prophecy…
The problem is, talking about IBS means talking about poo and everyone knows that you don’t talk about poo. Ew, gross you go to the toilet like every other human being on the planet. Minging. Being in crippling agony because of IBS is not only horrendous, it’s also really bloody awkward. The stigma surrounding mental health issues IS seeing improvement, however, we still have a long way to go. When dealing with both at the same time, you end up in a constant cycle, with one feeding into the other.
To wrap it up…
As for whether I will be ditching my current mental health support for an Actimel… I doubt it. Research is very premature and has not yet being practised on humans on a large enough scale for it to be taken seriously. Obviously this in itself is something that is difficult and to know the impact of prebiotics on depression, any prescribed medication would have to be stopped, which could have potentially terrible consequences. But the fact that IBS is being considered as a serious issue tied up with mental health is really very interesting
Some concluding thoughts the to take away with you. IBS is shit. Literally.