Evidence Based Ways to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)


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Canada has one of the highest prevalence’s of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the world – estimated at 18% vs. 11% globally (Lovell et al. 2012). If you are one of those Canadians living with IBS, you know all about its not-so-pleasant symptoms. Managing IBS often takes a combination of approaches, and each person may be different! Below are some proactive strategies and treatment options that can help you live your best life!

First things first, Start with Fibres

We have all heard that getting enough fibre and reducing the amount of sugar in our diet is big for gut health. When you have IBS, it is no different. Dietary fibre can be classified as either soluble or insoluble, and soluble fibre is beneficial for IBS (2). Try slowly increasing dietary fibre by 2 to 4 grams per day to prevent discomfort and to promote soft, painless stools. However, everyone is different and large servings of fibre may aggravate IBS, keep track of what you eat and your symptoms to discuss with your doctor during this process.

Some other tips for general gut health include ensuring you are drinking six to eight glasses of water or fluids per day, avoiding carbonated beverages, chewing gum, or eating quickly which may cause gas!

The low FODMAP Diet

You may have heard of this one before. The low FODMAP diet involves removing carbohydrates that are known to be more difficult to digest, or poorly absorbed in the small intestine of some people.

FODMAPs are found in a wide variety of everyday foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk products and sweetening agents. Each person has an individual threshold for tolerating FODMAPs and some foods may pose more of a problem than others. A diet that reduces the intake of high FODMAP foods and manages the total FODMAP load at each meal, may help to relieve your IBS symptoms.

It is important to note that the low FODMAP diet is not a permanent diet! You should be working collaboratively with your Registered Dietitian to eliminate high FODMAP foods and reintroduce them slowly over a six week period to test and eliminate which foods are negatively affecting your symptoms.

Manage your Stress

We understand stress is inevitable. But if you have IBS, stress management is SO important. Why? because our gut and brain are constantly communicating and interacting with each other, so if you are stressed out about something in your life or have a significant physical stressor such as a bowel infection, these complex interactions often can lead to the first onset of symptoms or aggravate symptoms you are already having. Because of this, many people with IBS often find symptom relief when they incorporate relaxation and mindfulness techniques into their lives.

If you have IBS, why not try:

  • Meditation – including relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualization
  • Regular exercise – such as walking, swimming, or yoga
  • Getting enough rest and sleep
  • Making time for YOU. We like to call it “Self-Care Sunday.” Slow down and do something YOU love – something to replenish your energy and make you feel relaxed and ready to take on a new week!

Trial a Probiotic

If other dietary strategies have not been successful in relieving your symptoms, a trial of a probiotic (in the dose recommended) may be helpful. However, Probiotics are not medicine! They are available to purchase as capsules, tablets or powders, and can also be found in some fortified yogurts and fermented milk products. However, not all probiotics are the same. It is important to choose a product that is proven to be safe and offers benefits for the specific symptoms you want to relieve.  Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about which probiotic may be right for YOU.

In the meantime, refer to the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products in Canada and look for the indication “IBS” beside the probiotic strain and brand that’s right for your category. This guide translates scientific evidence available for probiotic products to practical, clinically relevant information – so you can trust it to have the most up to date information on the best probiotic forms.

You’ve got this!  And it is ok to ask your doctor for help!

Remember, you are not alone suffering from IBS – millions of other people live with the same disorder every day. The treatment options not only depend of your IBS sub-category: IBS-C (Constipation), IBS-D (Diarrhea), IBS-M (Mixed) or IBS unclassified, but also on your particular situation – there are medications approved in Canada for IBS (over the counter or prescription) that can help your symptoms as well. Consult your doctors to learn about all available options and discuss what could work best for you – In time, you will get back to living your life – your way!


(1) Lovell RM and Ford AC. Global prevalence of and risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome: A meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Jul;10(7):712-21.e4.

(2) Moayyedi P, Quigley EM, Lacy BE et al. The effect of fiber supplementation on irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014;109(9):1367–1374.