If you struggle with IBS you may have noticed that your gut symptoms and flares become worse in the summer months, or with heat in general. Indeed, heat can impact IBS. Let’s talk about why this is happening and some ways to mitigate the effect of heat on IBS.
Heat and IBS: Why Do IBS Symptoms Worsen in the Summer?
1. Core temperature regulation
Our body is trying to maintain its core temperature, mainly by sweating. This may lead to dehydration, which can worsen both diarrhea and constipation and also trigger other symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and fatigue.
2. Thermal hypersensitivity
One study showed that people with IBS are more sensitive to heat than healthy controls (people without IBS). People with IBS had lower heat pain thresholds and lower heat pain tolerance: their reaction to the heat was more significant, and the temperature needed to trigger pain was lower than in those who did not have IBS. Their symptoms were more severe, especially abdominal pain.
3. Changes in routines and habits during the summer
In the summer we tend to eat more raw vegetables and large salads (as opposed to more cooked vegetables, soups, and stews), which are more difficult to digest and may not be tolerated by some people with IBS. In addition, we may be eating more seasonal vegetables like peaches, watermelon, mangoes, or blackberries which are higher in FODMAPs you may be sensitive to. Or more likely to drink smoothies and juices that contain lots of fruits and, therefore, high amounts of fructose, which is difficult to absorb when it is in excess.
There may be also an increase in alcohol consumption at BBQs and summer parties, or in caffeinated beverages such as iced tea and coffee or sodas, which can be dehydrating. Both alcohol and caffeine are gut irritants and can trigger gut symptoms. And we may be drinking more carbonated beverages – I know, they are refreshing, but also make you ingest air and can trigger bloating.
4. Change in sleeping habits
Heat can indirectly impact IBS because it can influence how much and how well we sleep. And we know that poor sleep is linked to increased gut symptoms.
Ways to mitigate the effect of heat on IBS
There is no doubt that heat is not your friend if you have IBS. But that doesn’t mean you should suffer through the summer months. Here are some ways to alleviate the effects of heat on IBS:
- Help your body cool itself. Start with drinking more water. But also cool your skin by running cold water on your wrists or using a cold towel around the neck. In addition, use fans or air conditioning indoors, and wear loose, breathable clothing.
- Drink regularly during the day, ideally before you get too thirsty and feel the need to chug water (which can lead to bloating by ingesting more air). Flavor your water with fruit and herbs like cucumber and mint or strawberry and basil. Or try my Ginger-Turmeric Tea (recipe below). Whether you enjoy it hot or cold, ginger can help calm an upset tummy. Try to limit carbonated beverages, caffeine, and alcohol.
- Eat your water! Most fruits and vegetables are 80-95% water. Take advantage of hydrating summer fruits that are lower in FODMAPs such as strawberries, cantaloupe, and honeydew; and vegetables like cucumber, tomatoes, and zucchini.
- Exercise in the cooler hours of the day. If it’s still too hot for high-intensity exercise such as running, switch to more gentle forms of exercise, like walking and yoga.
- If you have trouble sleeping, taking a cold shower before going to bed and keeping the room as cool as possible can help. Cool down your bedroom in the hours before you go to bed with fans or air conditioning. The ideal temperature for our body to fall and stay asleep is 65°F.
In conclusion, heat does affect IBS symptoms both directly, and indirectly through our lifestyle choices in the summer months that impact nutrition and hydration. Nonetheless, you can lessen the effects of heat on your gut by helping your body cool itself, hydrating more, exercising in the cooler hours of the day, and making sure you get enough sleep.
4 cups water
1 piece (2 inches) of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3-4 whole black peppercorns
Maple syrup or sugar to taste (optional)
- Bring the water, ginger, turmeric, and peppercorns to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Strain.
- Add maple syrup or sugar if desired, starting with 1 tsp per cup.
- Enjoy hot or at room temperature. Or refrigerated for a cool treat.
Yield: About 4 cups
Author: Antonella Dewell, Registered Dietitian & Natural Chef
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