Maybe you’ve been cramping lately. Or feeling some belly bloating.
For some five million Canadians, these are symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For others, the discomfort is a reminder that the intestines might need a bit of TLC.
In partnership with Webber Naturals, a Canadian brand of vitamins and nutritional supplements since 1948, and to mark IBS Awareness Month, we asked experts for five ways to improve gut health this spring. They suggested:
- Filling up with fibre
“This means eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Staying more plant-based with your diet will help ensure you’re getting at least 25 grams of fibre per day,” says Dr. Joyce Johnson, a naturopathic doctor. A good range to aim for, she says, would be between 25 and 35 grams of fibre per day.
Fibre helps keep things in your digestive tract humming along and can help keep your bowel movements regular as well. But fibre can’t do it alone. Fluid intake will also keep that digestive system moving and help you avoid dehydration. When you increase your fibre intake, “drinking lots of water and herbal teas is important,” Johnson adds.
- Moving more
“Activity is really important — even just light stretching to help move things through the body. If we just sit a lot, it doesn’t give the body a chance to get the digestion working,” says Kristin Metvedt, a registered holistic nutritionist.
In fact, activity or exercise helps your gut health in more than one way. “People don’t listen to their bodies and rest when they need rest. Stress plays a really big role in gut health because it can trigger an overgrowth of bad bacteria,” says Johnson. “Exercise can be a beneficial way to relieve stress.”
- Sidelining sweets
Or more specifically, Metvedt suggests, cut back on sugars and artificial sweeteners. “Sugar is okay in small amounts, but having high amounts of sugar consistently will upset the good bacteria in the gut. If there are any other triggers, such as stress or a viral infection, it just really puts a strain on that gut bacteria, and you get a whole host of inflammation problems,” she says.
One easy way to start opting out of sugar might be limiting processed and packaged foods, since they often contain refined sugars.
- Selecting some supplements
If you have IBS and you’re struggling to get enough fibre, Metvedt suggests a supplement such as Webber Naturals’ The Right Fibre4, which is clinically recognized to help relieve minor symptoms associated with IBS like gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
If you aren’t interested in probiotic-rich foods, such as yogourt, or traditional fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, a probiotic supplement may be the way to go to support healthy gut bacteria.
“If you’re looking for all-around gut health, look for a probiotic with at least 30 billion active cells and a multi-strain formula,” Metvedt says. “Read the label and see the intention for the product use to help you choose. Also, choosing a shelf-stable product is good because you can take it with you.” Some probiotics still have to be refrigerated, but others don’t.
Metvedt says it’s a good idea to keep an eye on other products from the drugstore you take in regularly, supplements or not, because those can affect your stomach as well. “Long-term use of medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, can damage your stomach lining,” she adds.
- Paying close attention
Keep tabs on your overall gut health. “This means thinking about the possible side effects of certain medications and how they can affect gut health,” Metvedt says. “For example, if you do need to be on an antibiotic, supplement with a probiotic and take it a few hours away from the antibiotic to re-establish your healthy gut bacteria.”
If you notice a sudden change in your stomach, like a new sharp pain or a shift in bowel habits, dial your doctor. “Look for some professional help, because the earlier you catch something, the better you can correct it,” Metvedt says.