Does your anxiety trigger IBS symptoms? How to support your digestive system

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It may be that your diet or eating patterns have changed during lockdown with more snacking and unhealthy choices creeping in, mainly out of boredom, loneliness or due to anxiety. Stress is a known factor that affects IBS, and now with the added difficulties of lockdown, a flare up of symptoms is not uncommon. So what can you do to support your digestive system?

Providing additional support for your digestive system is crucial to help you manage the symptoms associated with this condition, including stomach cramps, bloating, wind, reflux and much more.

Here are five simple things that will make an immediate difference, according to May Simpkin, leading nutritionist and consultant to Enzymedica UK.

1. Chew mindfully

Digestion begins in the mouth, where the enzyme salivary amylase begins to break up the carbohydrates in the meal, explained Simpkin.

She continued: “It is important to chew more carefully and mindfully, so that by the time the food arrives in the stomach, it has not only been broken down into smaller pieces, but the digestive process has already begun to take effect.

“This will help to ensure the food passes through the entire digestive system more efficiently and reduce the risk of the food fermenting, which produces wind that results in bloating.

“Putting your cutlery down in between mouthfuls can help to slow you down and ensure more careful chewing.”

2. Plan your meals

Try to avoid a haphazard approach to eating during lockdown, said Simpkin.

Instead she advised: “Take the time to plan your meals so you’re eating healthy, wholesome food with plenty of fibre and good nutrients.

“Try to make your mealtime an ‘occasion’. For example, leave your work area to sit down at the table for a calmer setting that will help you process your meal more efficiently.

“Try not to snack on sugary foods that offer little nutritional value and contribute to an unhealthy gut environment. Instead, opt for more nutritious, fibre rich choices like a piece of fruit with a small handful of nuts or some hummus and fresh, crunchy vegetables.”

3. Focus on calm

Digestion is not a priority when we’re feeling stressed, said Simpkin.

She explained: “The body instead focuses on dealing with the response to the stress, and the brain reduces the action messages it sends out to ‘digest’ food. If stress or anxiety is prolonged, potentially due to lockdown, the overall digestive process is compromised and will become less efficient.

“To help the digestion during a difficult phase, consider taking a digestive enzyme supplement. I recommend Digest Gold from Enzymedica (RPR from £10.99, available to buy from and all good independent health food stores), which offers a blend of enzymes that are effective throughout the digestive tract.

“This additional boost of digestive enzymes will help to break down the food more thoroughly and allow it to pass through more easily.

“Try also to weave in some activities into your lockdown lifestyle that will help you de-stress; starting your day with a walk in the fresh air or an exercise session at home for example. Take breaks during the day and allow time at the end of the day to relax and unwind, away from your screens if possible; perhaps with a herbal tea or a hot bath.”

4. Avoid eating before bed

As we sleep, our digestive system repairs and rebuilds, ready for the next day. If we eat a meal immediately before going to bed, rather than repairing, the digestive system will have to focus on breaking down and digesting this meal and uses up a lot of energy in this process.

Simpkin said: “As such, not only will our night’s sleep be disrupted, but the digestive system also doesn’t have adequate time to repair effectively.  You may find IBS symptoms more pronounced as a result.

“Aim to finish your meal at least three hours before heading to bed to allow enough time for your digestive system to process the meal.”

5. Watch your caffeine

Some people may be sensitive to caffeine and may find that it can stimulate the muscles in your digestive system to contract more strongly, said Simpkin.

She added: “This can be the cause of painful IBS symptoms like cramps. It is worth reducing or even avoiding caffeine if you are susceptible to these side-effects.”

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