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  • Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is linked to a decreased risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These habits include not smoking, vigorous physical activity, and getting enough quality sleep.
  • Experts said that not smoking may reduce inflammation, exercise can regulate bowel movements and sleep can boost immune function – all of which contribute to a healthy gut and minimizing IBS symptoms.
  • To treat IBS, avoid spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol. Also, exercise regularly, don’t smoke and practice good sleep hygiene.

Following healthy lifestyle habits is associated with a reduced risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a new study. These habits included not smoking, vigorous physical activity, and getting enough quality sleep.

The findings were published February 20 in the journal Gut.

Researchers examined five key healthy behaviors, which include never smoking, getting at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night; a high level of vigorous physical activity each week; a high-quality balanced diet every day; and moderate alcohol intake.

They analyzed participants of an average age of 55 from the UK Biobank, which included 64,268 people, just over half of whom (55%) were women, and who had completed at least two 24-hour dietary recall questionnaires. The period of examination took place during a 12.6-year period, during which 961 (1.5%) cases of IBS were recorded.

Results showed 7,604 (12%) of participants didn’t engage in any of the 5 healthy lifestyle behaviors, while 20,662 (32%) reported one; 21,901 (34%) reported two; and 14,101 (22%) reported three to five behaviors at the start of the study.

According to the results of this study, individuals who adopt an increasing number of these healthy lifestyle behaviors could see a proportional decrease in their IBS risk, with adherence to one, two, or three to five behaviors associated with reductions of 21%, 36%, and 42% in IBS risk, respectively.

Furthermore, three healthy behaviors were independently linked with a lower risk of IBS: never smoking (14% lower); high level of physical activity (17% lower); and a good night’s sleep (27% lower).

Although the exact causes of IBS are not fully understood several factors appear to contribute to its development. Dr. Anthony Lembo, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, provided a list:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain or discomfort in the intestines.
  • Altered gut microbiota: imbalances in the types and amounts of bacteria in the gut may play a role.
  • Immune dysregulation: low-grade inflammation in the intestines or dysfunction in the immune system
  • Food intolerances or sensitivities: certain foods or food components may trigger symptoms in individuals with IBS.
  • Psychological factors: stress, anxiety, or depression can exacerbate symptoms or contribute to their onset.
  • Abnormal gastrointestinal motility: irregular contractions of the muscles in the intestines can lead to symptoms like diarrhea or constipation

It is important to note that IBS is a very broad term.

“It is broad because it groups a bunch of different GI issues together because they all lead to the same symptoms (irregular bowel habits and abdominal discomfort, basically),” said Dr. Aditya Sreenivasan, gastroenterologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital. “But it can be caused by a variety of different GI issues. It can be caused by hormonal irregularities leading to fluid shifts and irregularities in intestinal motion, bacterial imbalance in the colon and/or small intestine, or hypersensitive nerves in the GI tract. There are probably multiple other causes that are not well understood as well.”

Results of the study showed not smoking, a high level of vigorous physical activity, and getting enough quality sleep were linked with managing IBS symptoms.

According to Lembo, the connection likely lies in their effects on various factors such as:

  • Quitting smoking may reduce inflammation in the gut and improve overall gastrointestinal health.
  • Regular exercise can help regulate bowel movements, increase GI motility, reduce stress levels, and improve overall gut function, potentially reducing the severity of IBS symptoms.
  • Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep can negatively impact gut health, immune function, and stress levels.

It is important to note the multifactorial nature of IBS includes various biological, psychosocial, and environmental factors.

“Lifestyle modifications, such as not smoking, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining healthy sleep habits, are key components in the management of IBS,” said Lembo. “The study highlighted suggests that healthy lifestyle choices could potentially reduce the risk of developing IBS. We use these same lifestyle modifications to manage symptoms in those with IBS.”

“These things each play a major role in influencing various factors that can increase or decrease IBS symptoms,” Sreenivasan stated. “Smoking leads to generalized inflammation and also leads to a lot of swallowed air, both of which can separately exacerbate or cause various IBS symptoms.”

Sreenivasan added: “Lack of exercise leads to slow intestinal motility, and likely leads to increases in stress hormone levels. Similarly with not sleeping – lack of sleep interferes with your brain’s ability to regulate the signals it is getting from your visceral (or intestinal) nerves.”

So, if your brain usually blocks out the signals from your gut that are activated by fluid shifts, intestinal contractions, or gas, your sleep-deprived brain lets all of those signals in and perceives it as discomfort or pain, Sreenivasan explained.

Treatment for IBS typically focuses on managing symptoms and improving overall quality of life. This may include a combination of dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, medications, and psychological interventions, Lembo stated.

Some common approaches to treating IBS include:

  • Dietary modifications: Avoiding trigger foods that exacerbate symptoms, such as certain types of carbohydrates (FODMAPs), caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods. Increasing fiber intake or trying a low FODMAP diet under the guidance of a healthcare professional may also help alleviate symptoms.
  • Lifestyle changes: not smoking, exercising, getting enough sleep
  • Medications: Over-the-counter or prescription medications may be used to manage specific symptoms of IBS, such as antispasmodics for abdominal pain, laxatives for constipation, or anti-diarrheal medications for diarrhea. Probiotics may also be recommended to help restore gut microbiota balance.
  • Psychological interventions: Cognitive-behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, or mindfulness-based stress reduction

IBS treatment should be individualized, ideally with a multidisciplinary team.

A new study shows practicing healthy lifestyle habits (not smoking, vigorous physical activity, and getting enough quality sleep) can lead to a lower risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The reason why these habits may be beneficial for a healthy gut: smoking may reduce inflammation, exercise can regulate bowel movements and sleep can strengthen immune function.

To manage IBS symptoms, avoid spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol. Additionally, exercise regularly, don’t smoke and practice good sleep hygiene.