By Fleur Michell
Irritable Bowel Syndrome currently affects one in seven Australians, making it one of the most common digestive disorders around.
However, IBS in kids can be hard to diagnose, given that some of the key symptoms such as stomach ache, constipation and diarrhea, are often run-of-the-mill childhood ailments, and aren’t necessarily a sign of anything more.
IBS sufferer Vanessa Hutchinson first noticed the symptoms of IBS when she was in highschool.
“It was mostly just bloating though, so it didn’t bother me too much,” says the mum of two. “I’d just wear loose clothes. If I noticed eating something triggered symptoms, I tried to avoid it. But I didn’t know I had a condition.”
Back then, Vanessa didn’t think to mention anything to her mum. “As they were just minor complaints I didn’t say anything and don’t think Mum would have paid it much attention anyway. She would probably just have just told me to stop eating or drinking certain things.
“It then got progressively worse throughout my 20’s with frequent bloating, pain and problems with bowel movements. It also didn’t help that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was going out, drinking and eating bad food, doing typical things for that age, so I just assumed my issues stemmed from that.
“It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I actually did anything about it and found out that I was actually suffering from IBS. From then on, I started following a low FODMAP diet and my health substantially improved.”
Three years ago, frustrated at the lack of IBS friendly snacks on the market, Vanessa decided to create Fodbods, a successful line of Protein Bars which are the only certified FODMAP-friendly bars in Australia.
Recently she launched Fodbods Buddies aimed at kids in consultation with dietician Eloise Turner. The 30g Fodbods Buddies bars, which are available in two flavours – Lamington and Strawberry Shortcake – are made from 100 per cent natural plant-based ingredients. The main ingredient is tigernut flour, a super food packed with health benefits which is also high in fibre, making the bars both filling and nutritious.
If you suspect your child may be suffering from IBS, Eloise advises to keep the following in mind.
Watch for IBS symptoms
“As for adults, IBS symptoms can be painful and also embarrassing for children and teens to talk about. These include abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, flatulence and altered bowel habits such as diarrhoea or constipation. It’s also recommended to consult your doctor if your child’s bowel movements often occur infrequently or very frequently or vary between loose/watery stools and hard/lumpier stools.”
Limit high FODMAP foods
“Finding foods for kids that don’t cause gut irritation can be challenging. Many ingredients in traditional ‘healthy snack bars’ such as wheat, dates, dairy, honey, sultanas and other fruits can cause unpleasant gut issues. A comprehensive list of high and low FODMAP foods is available at Monash University High and Low Fodmap Foods.”
“Whilst high FODMAP foods are often the culprit, it’s also important to be aware of other triggers such as fatty foods, caffeine, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners and large meals.”
How to manage symptoms
“I would encourage your child to eat smaller meals more often during the day and keep a food and symptom diary which may help you better understand your child’s triggers. Physical activity, adequate hydration and fibre is also vital to promote healthy bowel movements. Exercise can also be a great tool to relieve stress and anxiety triggers.
“Additionally, having your child talk to a therapist about their IBS may also help to reduce their symptoms. A therapist can explain how emotions may trigger their IBS symptoms and teach them relaxation techniques and management skills to avoid triggering IBS symptoms.”