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How a mother and daughter changed their diet to manage irritable bowel syndrome

Lynda Collins, left, and Siobhan Grainger. Photo/Tony Nyberg/Listener

A mother and daughter with irritable bowel syndrome say that diet was the missing ingredient in controlling the condition.

Research showing a genetic predisposition to irritable bowel syndrome was news to Lynda Collins and her daughter Siobhan Grainger – but it came as no surprise.

Grainger, an Auckland freelance photographer, was 18 when she was diagnosed; her mother was diagnosed at 22. Both had previously had glandular fever, but there’s little evidence it’s a triggering infection for gut dysfunction.

After having no symptoms growing up, Grainger says she began to suffer severe cramping and bloating. “It just feels like I’ve been punched and winded. It will be like that for a couple of days, and I can’t do anything until it has passed.”

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Her condition improved dramatically after she cut out dairy foods in 2016, and it has improved further since she began to restrict her gluten intake. Collins, after consulting a nutritionist last year, has also removed dairy and gone on to a Fodmaps diet, which excludes fermentable carbohydrates, with similar results. She says she can now go for weeks without symptoms.

Both Collins and Grainger say their conditions are exacerbated by stress. Collins says when she was diagnosed, her GP told her the affliction was a result of stress and anxiety, but didn’t mention the possible contribution of diet. She changed her diet only after advice from a new GP.

Collins (48), an administration manager in Hamilton, says although her health is now fairly stable, “you always know it’s there”. The condition does flare up in response to stress, but she says the new diet has made a big difference. “I had never really looked at food in the past because I’d been told it was stress-related. I was hesitant to use Dr Google for self-diagnosis. I trusted my GP would point me in the right direction.”

The new diet is difficult to stick to – she’s had to cut out a number of fruits, as well as onion and garlic, which she loves – and she’ll sometimes put up with the symptoms to make eating out more enjoyable. “It’s a balancing act. Sometimes I just say ‘blow it’ and eat the things I want, knowing that, in a couple of days, I’ll have an uncomfortable tummy and be bloated and gassy. I know it’s not going to kill me, so why stress?”

This article was first published in the March 30, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.