Chronic Condition Management, Health Systems, Workforce Health | By | 12/04/18 | 4 Minute Read

4 Tips to Help Employees Manage IBS and Digestive Issues

As the holidays are here, our collective focus moves to finding ways to maintain healthy eating habits while still enjoying the seasonal indulgences: cookie swaps, glamourous craft cocktails, and celebratory sweets at the office party. While monitoring the daily diet can be challenging for your employees, doing so can be vital for those who suffer from a common digestive disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

A chronic condition that has to be managed long term, IBS affects the functionality of a person’s large intestine. Between 25 and 45 million people in the US have IBS, with two out of three sufferers being female. According to the International Foundation of Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), the exact cause of IBS is unknown, and the condition is considered by physicians to be unpredictable, as symptoms can vary and are sometimes contradictory. For example, IBS can cause a patient to have diarrhea, alternating with constipation. Other symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, and bloating.

The effects of IBS can range from mild inconvenience to severe debilitation, as those with severe IBS may experience symptoms that impair their physical, emotional, economic, and social well-being. The Mayo Clinic notes that the three main triggers for IBS symptoms include certain foods, hormonal changes, and periods of increased stress. While stress doesn’t cause IBS, it can worsen or aggravate the effects.

IBS in the Workplace

The impact of IBS on your workforce might be greater than you think. In a recent study of the effects of IBS on work productivity, 24 percent of patients with jobs reported that they missed work because of IBS. Almost 87 percent reported some measure of impairment while at work because of their disease. As the severity of the patients’ symptoms and GI-specific anxiety increased, so did their work impairment and their ability to be productive on the job.

The researchers in the study recommended that physicians needed to treat patients with IBS for their overall symptom burden–and not just disease-specific symptoms–to increase their ability to be active at work.

If you have employees that suffer from IBS, here are some lifestyle management tips that may help them monitor–and hopefully diminish–the symptoms:  

Maintain an IBS-friendly diet. Meals may trigger symptoms of IBS, as eating stimulates the digestive tract, which can over-respond if a person has IBS. IFFGD has several tips for an IBS-friendly diet, including: eating five or six smaller meals (vs. the typical three) spread throughout the day; eating slower; and avoiding large meals and high-fat foods.

The Mayo Clinic notes that IBS symptoms may increase when eating certain foods, including wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk, and carbonated drinks. And the Cleveland Clinic has assembled a handy food map of the best and worst foods for IBS using its low-FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols.” In more common terms, FODMAPs are carbohydrates that may not be digested or absorbed well.  

Log daily nutrition. Employees with IBS may benefit from logging meals. In addition to helping with weight management and healthy-eating-over-the-holidays goals, logging meals can help people identify food sensitivities or nutrient deficiencies. The food log in the Fitbit app makes meal and snack logging easy, and the app now also includes macronutrient tracking, which helps users monitor the amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in their diet.

Make regular exercise part of the holiday routine. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease IBS symptoms. A randomized clinical trial reported by the Mayo Clinic showed a significant reduction in IBS symptoms in patients who performed 20 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity three times a week for 12 weeks.

Include yoga and stretching. Yoga has been shown to be a remedial therapy for IBS that may help people better manage the primary and secondary symptoms of IBS. With the right combination of deep breathing, stretches that target the abdominal organs, and twists that wring out stuck intestinal toxins, the right yoga sequence may be able to relieve a wide range of digestive discomfort. So consider adding yoga options to your wellness class line-up.

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