Women and IBS



This post was sponsored by Nestle Health Science. 

Women and IBS… We all poo – GIRLS POO too. It’s a fact of life. Periods poos, had too much to drink with the girls the night before poos, and ate way too much poos – as women, we’ve all had them. The occasional bloat or poop issue is nothing to worry about. However, if you are consistently getting belly pain, cramps, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation – it’s worth paying attention to.  When these symptoms get in the way of a girl living her best life – you could have IBS – and it may be time to talk to your doctor.  

So what is IBS?  

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder affecting the intestine. IBS involves problems with motility (movement of digested food through the intestines) and sensitivity (how the brain interprets signals from the intestinal nerves), leading to abdominal pain, changes in bowel patterns and other symptoms. Although often disruptive, debilitating and embarrassing, it may be some comfort to know that IBS is NOT life-threatening, nor does it lead to cancer or other more serious illnesses. 

And sorry ladies, but IBS occurs more often for you than men.   

No one knows the exact reason for IBS but one thing experts are certain about is that your gender does play a role. However, the reasons for why IBS is predominant in women remains to be explored in detail. With regard to symptoms, women more often report abdominal pain and constipation-related symptoms, while men more commonly report diarrhea-related symptoms. Despite limited comprehensive data, sex hormones are believed to contribute to these gender differences as well as cultural factors and gender roles (1).

So if you’re one of the lucky ladies who have been diagnosed with IBS, what do you do now?  

Well.. the good news is IBS is MANAGEABLE, and there are many different ways it can be treated. Managing IBS often takes a combination of approaches, and each person may be different! Below are some proactive strategies and treatment options that may help you get back to being the kick-ass women you are – minus your tummy troubles!  

First up, try changing up your diet.  

  • Soluble fibre can be 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 – so keep track of what you eat and your symptoms to discuss with your doctor during this process. 
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of fluids per day (avoiding carbonated beverages) 
  • Avoid chewing gum or eating quickly which may cause gas!  

The low FODMAP diet  

You may have heard of this one before and asked yourself what the heck it means. 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 estimated that around 50% of people with IBS may benefit from a low FODMAPs diet, however, the scientific evidence for this is very low.  

For more on this diet, click here.  

Break up with Stress  

Have you ever been super stressed for a presentation at work or a big exam coming up and had to immediately poo? Whether you are juggling mom life, or are a boss lady taking on her first job in the real work-life can be stressful, we get it. But if you have IBS, stress management is SO important. The reason why your bowels get going when you are stressed is because the gut and the brain are constantly communicating and interacting with each other, so these complex interactions can often lead to the first onset of symptoms or aggravate symptoms you are already having.  

What’s more – IBS can get us down in the dumps (literally!)Women with IBS tend to report lower quality of life, more fatigue, depressed mood, less positive well-being and self-control, and higher levels of anxiety than men with IBS (1).

So make sure you talk to your family and friends about the support you need from them. Some of them may be misinformed about what is useful in terms of reminders, food restrictions, etc. Let them know that IBS is often a game of finding out what works best for you – so it will require you to do research and a little experimenting. This will take up some of your time and focus, so you want to ensure your family and friends know this when it comes time for get-togethers, dinner parties, and nights out that you may not always be able to attend.  

If you’re a woman with 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
  • Joining an online support group 
  • 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! 

Test out 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. You can purchase them 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, and they are not medicine. 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, pharmacist, or dietician about which probiotic may be right for YOU. 

In the meantime, refer to theClinical 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 got this girl! PS. Its ok to ask your doctor and 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 on 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.  

(1) Kim, Young Sun, and Nayoung Kim. “Sex-Gender Differences in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility vol. 24,4 (2018): 544-558. doi:10.5056/jnm18082

(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.