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The simple lifestyle changes that could cut the risk of irritable bowel syndrome

Simple everyday lifestyle changes could cut the risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a new long-term study.

About 13 million people suffer from the condition in the UK, according to the NHS, and symptoms can vary in severity.

Now researchers from Hong Kong believe they may have found five healthy behaviours that can prevent IBS later in life.

What is IBS?

IBS is a common condition affecting the digestive system, causing stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.

Such symptoms can last for days and come and go over time, but in some cases they can be felt for months.

The exact cause is not known and it is usually a condition that lasts for life – which has a big impact on everyday routines.

It’s been linked to things like food passing too quickly or too slowly through the gut, stress and a family history of IBS.

There’s no known cure, but the NHS advises diet changes and medicines can help to control symptoms.

What does the study say?

The new study, published in the journal Gut and carried out by researchers from the University of Hong Kong, elaborates on the kind of changes that can make a positive difference.

Among several factors, not smoking, having plenty of vigorous exercise and getting at least seven hours of sleep a night seemed to have the biggest effect.

Five healthy behaviours were looked at:

• not smoking;
• good sleep;
• enough exercise;
• healthy diet;
• lower alcohol consumption.

After accounting for factors that could influence the results – such as family history of IBS – people who were healthiest had the lowest risk of IBS.

More exercise can help to cut the risk. Pic: PA
More exercise can help to cut the risk. Pic: PA

One healthy behaviour was associated with a 21% lower risk, two were associated with a 36% lower risk, and three to five were linked to a 42% lower risk.

Individually, never smoking was linked to a 14% lower risk, a good night’s sleep led to a 27% lower risk and a high level of physical activity led to a 17% lower risk.

How was the study done?

Researchers looked at 64,286 people (average age 55, just over half of whom were women) from the UK Biobank medical database.

None of those in the study had been diagnosed with IBS at the start, and all had completed at least two 24-hour questionnaires on their diets.

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Over 12.5 years, 961 (1.5%) cases of IBS were noted.

Of all those in the study, 7,604 (12%) people did not have any of the five healthy lifestyle behaviours.

A total of 20,662 (32%) reported one, 21,901 (34%) reported two, and 14,101 (22%) reported three to five.

What do the researchers say?

While the researchers could not prove cause and effect due to the nature of the study, they concluded that leading a lifestyle based on more of the five areas identified cuts the risk of developing IBS.

“Adhering to a higher number of the five healthy lifestyle behaviours is significantly associated with a lower IBS incidence in a middle-aged population,” they said.

“Our findings suggest the potential of lifestyle modifications as a primary prevention strategy for IBS.”


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