How to prevent a flare-up of IBS on Christmas Day

Q.  My doctor says I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), which affects me as constipation or diarrhoea, often with bloating and sometimes stomach cramps.  What can I do to help prevent it over Christmas Day? A.  Up to one in five people are affected by this distressing problem, with more women than men diagnosed, according to women’s health expert and qualified nutritionist Marilyn Glenville (, whose book on IBS will be published next February.  Over the festivities, she suggests these quick helpers.

Drink peppermint, fennel and chamomile teas.  Sip peppermint after a meal.  Research shows it can eliminate or reduce spasms, bloating, trapped wind, constipation and diarrhoea.  Fennel helps prevent and reduce flatulence and bloating.  Chamomile is calming before bedtime to relax both body and mind: it can reduce spasms and control ‘nervous’ reactions in the gut, making it less sensitive to food and other triggers.  Try Pukka Herbs teabags, available at supermarkets and health food stores.

Evidence strongly suggests probiotics help IBS so consume natural, organic, probiotic yogurt, which is an excellent gut soother. Full fat is fine but yogurt – or probiotic drinks – must be sugar- and sweetener-free.

Add one tablespoon of organic ground flaxseeds to oat porridge in the morning, or take the same amount in water.  If you have diarrhoea predominantly, try one teaspoon to see how your gut reacts.

Avoid fizzy drinks, both alcoholic and non-.  They are often triggers for digestive problems.  Also avoid too much Christmas cake or pudding (dried fruit sets off many people), and other sugary foods.

Stress makes IBS worse.  If things get tense, go for a walk or try meditating, which has been shown to help flatulence, bloating and diarrhoea.  See my column of November 26th for a simple method - click here to read it.

Chew, chew, chew. The first part of digestion happens in your mouth and how well the rest of the journey goes depends on that.  Take time to eat small mouthfuls, concentrating on your food.  Avoid talking with your mouth full (it causes belching) and drinking much with food as that dilutes important enzymes in your saliva.


APP OF THE WEEK: Pregnancy Yoga with Ayala Gill

There is still time to send electronic gifts such as this easy to follow App.  Four half-hour sequences from an experienced Iyengar-trained teacher help women at all stages become strong and flexible for birth, with poses to help nausea and fatigue, also relaxation and meditation options. Julie, who is 25 weeks pregnant, has used it for six weeks: ‘I love that I can easily find poses for how I feel on the day.  It always gives me more energy and a sense of being comfortable with the on-going changes.’  £1.99 via or the iTunes Store



My father suffered a form of dementia for the last six years of his life so I wanted to welcome the Government’s new Dementia Friends campaign with open arms. According to, the mission is to equip volunteers with an understanding of dementia and how to help people with the condition, then ‘the rest is down to you’.  At this point, the concept is woolly, to say the least - and the practical relevance escapes me.

I do, however, know two things to help both people with dementia and those around them. Contented Dementia, by psychologist Oliver James (Vermilion, £12.99 - buy here), offers a loving and accepting way of interacting with people who have no short-term memory.  He explains that their long-term memory is intact so they use it to make sense of a confusing present.  So they may believe they are in places or with people who are long past.  There is no point in trying to destroy their version of reality and leaving them more confused and upset; ‘if they are in a good place, run with it,’ he advises.

The three key strategies are: don’t ask questions that require short-term memory, never contradict their version of what’s happening, and learn to love their repetition.  I know this works and recommend the book highly.

Secondly, Singing for the Brain, a musical initiative organised by the Alzheimers Society, which provides social events for people with dementia and their carers, and may help those who have lost the power of speech to access and say words through singing.

For local groups, visit and Search ‘Singing for the brain’.



With hot fat, boiling water and sharp knives, the kitchen can be a dangerous place on Christmas day, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (   They recommend that cooks keep other people – particularly children - out of the kitchen, stay off alcohol until you have finished cooking, and wipe up spills immediately.  Also empty glasses before children do, dispose of bones, and snuff candles.  Just in case, map your nearest hospital with A&E, and put the NHS Direct number – 0845-4647 – above the phone.  (A short number, but we promise it's the right one!)