That’s right… I said it. I mentioned the unmentionables. As a dietitian specializing in digestive health issues and sports nutrition, this is merely a common topic that falls under both of my areas of specialty.
What is it? Those of you who experience it, know it well. It’s when runners have diarrhea during or immediately after a run, or feel an urgency to have a bowel movement during exercise. The cause for it is still questionable, but there are a few existing scientific theories. One is that there is ischemia, or limited blood flow and required oxygen, to the arteries that supply the small and large intestines. Symptoms of this include abdominal pain and diarrhea. The other most common theory is mechanical trauma, which is simply the fact that running creates more movement of the GI tract – potentially speeding up the transit time of bowel movements and leading to urgency and diarrhea.
There are so many of us who suffer from digestive health issues. Whether it’s undiagnosed, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. It’s something our society doesn’t like to discuss much – and quite understandably so given the pain, frustration, and embarrassment these health issues may cause. When I was growing up experiencing the pain of IBS, I thought I was one of the few unlucky ones having to deal with the symptoms. However, because of my history with digestive health issues and now my work experience helping individuals to alleviate symptoms of their digestive issues, I’m realizing more and more how common these health issues actually are. Many of my friends and coworkers in Vancouver are even coming to me for advice about how they can gain control over their digestive problems. If I’m just hearing this from those I’m surrounded by on a regular basis, it makes me wonder how many people are out there silently suffering.
IBS and IBD in particular, have never been easy conditions to overcome. Given their complexity – the number of contributing factors to symptoms, the many different triggers for the onset of symptoms, and diversity of possible foods which may or may not cause symptoms – it only makes sense. Up until recently, the only form of dietary management available for individuals suffering from these conditions has been elimination diets. Basically, trying to find associations between certain foods and symptoms, and then eliminating one group of food at a time to see if it the symptoms decrease. Finally, once certain trigger foods are identified (which may take several weeks or months of working with a dietitian), they are added back in to see if the symptoms come back. It can be quite a tedious process, but in the end if symptoms are improved, it is all worthwhile.
Now, there’s even hope for a less tedious process of eliminating trigger foods for those suffering from IBS and sometimes those suffering from IBD. There’s been recent scientific evidence showing that short chain carbohydrates (oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyls), may contribute to symptoms of IBS such as bloating, pain, and changes in bowel movements. Shorter chain carbohydrates are more rapidly fermented by bacteria in individuals suffering from gut mobility issues, thus contributing to common IBS symptoms. The elimination of foods high in short chain carbohydrates has actually been scientifically proven to help improve symptoms in 75% of those suffering from IBS symptoms. For more information, check out Shepherd Works’ website about the low FODMAP diet.
So for any of you who are experiencing discomfort with digestion, (whether it be stomach aches, changes in bowel movements, bloating, gas, or anything else) first mention it to your doctor. He/she might run some diagnostic tests to try and figure out what is going on. Second, a registered dietitian specializing in gastrointestinal health can potentially help you alleviate symptoms further. No need to suffer in silence – gain control over what’s causing your discomfort on a regular basis, it can be done.