So many people suffer from tummy issues these days, and unless there’s a definitive reason for it (i.e. Crohn’s or Celiac) it’s generally diagnosed as IBS, short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
IBS can come in different forms, from terrible cramps and diarrhea to severe constipation…or both. The most common way to try to manage IBS is to adjust the diet. For some people, this means cutting out gluten or following the FODMAP diet. For others, it might be the ketogenic diet.
Let’s have a look at the ketogenic diet and whether or not it helps with IBS…
What is IBS and why do we get it?
Good question. IBS is the term given to a general discomfort in the gut and digestive process when there are no other causes found. The interesting thing is, there is not one cause and every IBS sufferer experiences IBS in their own way. A person with IBS would generally describe it as including some or all of these sensations:
- Painful bloating
- Diarrhea after eating
- Stomach pain
- Irregular digestion (i.e. constipation one week, diarrhea the next)
They would also tell you that they’ve been diagnosed with IBS because there are no other causes showing up through blood tests or samples.
The general consensus is that IBS tends to happen when the gut, the nervous system and the brain don’t get along so well. This is why people often think that stress or anxiety causes IBS, because they find their symptoms get worse during stress. In fact, the stress actually just nudges the IBS and angers it instead of causing it from the start.
I’ll let you know…I have IBS, and I found it really frustrating when first diagnosed. I had all these symptoms which were really getting in the way of life, and all the doctor could say was…“all of your tests are fine, it’s IBS and probably triggered by stress”. The frustration came from the fact that there wasn’t a definitive, “this is the issue, here’s the solution”. But what I did learn was that diet, lifestyle and stress management are the ways to handle IBS. Which is kind of a weird blessing in disguise…as it forced me to live the healthiest life yet!
- IBS doesn’t have a definitive cause
- IBS has different triggers for different people
- IBS is related to the connection between the gut, the brain and the nervous system
- IBS can be managed through diet and lifestyle
Carbs, sugars and tummy trouble
Foods which are high in sugars and simple carbohydrates are inflammatory. Have you ever gone through a phase of eating junk food, sugary sodas and chocolate on the regular (i.e. PMS or breakup?!) only to feel bloated, sore and sick? That’s most likely because processed, sugar and refined carb-rich foods spike the blood sugar, telling the body to go into a state of defense…i.e. Inflammation.
Once in a while, a little indulgence and subsequent mild inflammation is totally fine and normal. But over a long period of time, constant inflammation can cause issues with the gut, and trigger IBS.
Another thing to remember about sugars and carbs is that when they enter your gut, they actually feed the bad bacteria. When this happens, the little harmonious village in your gut can get unruly, with bad bacteria taking over the good stuff. An unbalanced gut truly makes itself known, with bloating, discomfort and unreliable digestion (if you get what I mean). The ketogenic diet can be great for restoring a healthy balance in the gut by nourishing the good flora and discouraging the bad stuff.
- Refined sugar and refined carbs are inflammatory, which over time can cause regular tummy issues and inflame IBS
- Sugars feed bad gut bacteria
- The keto diet can rebalance and restore healthy gut flora which reduces IBS symptoms
Keto, anxiety and IBS
Do you find that your IBS symptoms flare up during stressful or high-pressure times? Does work or school stress give you a crampy stomach and wreak havoc on your regularity (to either extreme)? It could be that your IBS is triggered by mental and emotional changes.
The research on the connection between the gut and the brain just keeps on coming, and it tells us that the connection is a very strong one. We now know that the gastrointestinal tract reacts when we are stressed by spasming or contracting, causing pain and tummy issues. Add triggering foods to this equation, and the IBS is in full force.
Many people find that keto-friendly foods help to calm nerves, and therefore calm IBS symptoms. By nourishing their gut with pro and prebiotic foods, lots of nutrient-dense foods and far less inflaming foods (i.e. carbs and sugars), their body and mind are supported and therefore support each other in that crucial brain-gut connection.
This is absolutely not to imply that mental health issues are because of a bad diet or lifestyle, not at all. But diet is one controllable way we can help our mental and emotional selves to cope with this stressful world. And in turn, we can help our bodies to resist the pain of IBS.
- The gut and brain and very tightly connected
- The gastrointestinal tract can actually move differently (and painfully) during stress
- The keto diet can help to support both the brain and the gut for a more harmonious, less triggering connection…therefore fewer IBS troubles
- Most keto foods are generally slow-burning, low GI, and anti-inflammatory, all of which are great for keeping moods stable and tummies calm
Keto and IBS bloating
A bad bout of bloating can literally cause you to not fit your clothes. It makes you feel full, sore, uncomfortable and puffy. And yes, it’s a regular occurance for IBS sufferers.
You might find that your IBS bloating comes from certain foods such as sugary treats, simple carbs, beans and lentils, or even gluten. By cutting those out via keto and replacing them with leafy greens, low-carb veggies, lean protein and healthy fat sources, you might just find that your tummy calms down drastically.
Do be aware that some people find certain low-carb veggies such as cruciferous (broccoli and cabbage) trigger IBS bloating. This is manageable, as you can simply avoid them and add more of the veggies your tummy likes.
- IBS can cause terrible bloating
- Keto-friendly foods can (for some people) help to stop bloating
- Keto-banned foods such as lentils, beans, sugars and refined carbs are often the culprits of bloating (aside from menstruation)
So...does keto help IBS?
The ketogenic diet may help with your IBS symptoms. If your IBS is related to anxiety, you may find that the ketogenic diet helps. The reduced sugars and simple carbs paired with more nutrient-dense foods can stabilise moods and decrease anxiety and stress. You might also find that your tummy is very sensitive to refined sugars, carbs, and processed foods (which none of our systems are equipped to handle properly, by the way). By cutting these foods out and focusing on a diet full of fresh, nutrient-dense foods, your body may just stabilise and start running more comfortably.
- Keto can help people whose main IBS triggers are sugary foods, refined carbs, sugary alcohol and very fiber-dense foods such as legumes
- The stabilizing effect of keto on mood and anxiety can help IBS symptoms to stay away for longer, and be less extreme when they do arise
- The anti-inflammatory properties of keto-friendly foods such as oily fish and low-carb veggies can help to calm the gut and keep IBS away
If you are having terrible IBS issues, don’t hesitate to see your doctor. A constant sore tummy and inefficient digestion should not be simply put up with! The doc will likely order a few tests to rule out any other issues before discussing IBS with you. Chat to them about your thoughts of starting keto and if they think it will be helpful, get started.
It might be that the best course of action for you is to try an elimination diet to see what the real triggers are, and that may or may not lead to a keto diet. Your doctor will know your history and can help you find the right path toward a more comfortable gut.
In the meantime, fill yourself with nutrient-dense foods you know won’t trigger you, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, limit alcohol and give yourself a break to simply relax. It does get better…and for you, keto might just be the solution.