Managing IBS Symptoms When You Have Diabetes

If you have diabetes or know someone that does, you know that there are quite a few “things to take care of.” Testing blood sugars, planning meals, getting more activity in, remembering to take your medications – just to name a few. Something that might not come to mind when thinking of the diabetes “to do” list is gut health. What does your gut have to do with diabetes? Actually it can have a lot to do with it. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS for short) is a common diagnosis for someone diagnosed with diabetes.

Diabetes is a circulatory issue that can affect how efficiently food moves through your digestive system. When blood sugars are high, that can effect “motility” which is how quickly food goes from your stomach to your intestines. We don’t want it to move too quickly or too slowly. Symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas and overall discomfort can be a sign of some type of gastrointestinal (GI) distress.

There are things you can do to help, however. First, it’s important to take a look at what might be affecting both your elevated blood sugars and your IBS symptoms. Both diabetes and IBS can be affected by stress, what you eat and activity levels. For example, someone that is “eating on the run” and not getting enough daily exercise might experience high blood sugars from the extra carbohydrates in fast food as well as the lack of physical activity. IBS symptoms could be worse due to the lack of fiber in the meal and less movement. Physical activity helps improve circulation so it stands to reason that more physical activity means your circulation is better and therefore your digestion is more efficient.

So what can you do if you find yourself or someone you care about with increased “stomach issues” and elevated blood sugars? Here’s a list of some things to consider:

  • Take stock of what you are eating. Write down everything you eat and drink for 3 days. Take special note of how much fiber you are getting. It is recommended to get 25-30 grams of fiber per day as an adult. Are you getting added sugars in your meal plan through sugary drinks or extra treats? It might be time to replace some of those with less sugary options which will help lower your blood sugars.
  • Make movement a central part of your day. Do you have a sedentary job? Set an alarm on your phone or your Fitbit to remind you to move every hour. More steps in your day will help to improve your overall circulation which isn’t only good for your gut health, it’s also good for your blood pressure and cholesterol levels too!
  • What is causing your stress? What makes your heart beat faster, your palms to get a little sweaty or your mind to start racing? Believe it or not, stress can cause elevated blood sugars all by itself. If you are experiencing GI symptoms, then it could worsen those as well.

Elevated blood sugars and IBS can both be very tricky diagnoses to manage. If you feel you need some additional help with navigating how to adequately take care of both, contact a Registered Dietitian/Certified Diabetes Educator to help you establish an individualized meal plan. Good gut health is important for overall health. Managing your diabetes is a great way to promote a healthy gut!

Jennifer Gilliland is an outpatient dietitian with ProMedica and a professional clinical counselor. She enjoys talking with people about the behavioral side of eating as well as educating people on the healthiest food choices.