Teens and tweens live on highly regulated school schedules that include very short passing periods between classes, rushed lunches and a limited number of restroom passes. Add sports schedules and a social life, and kids with digestive disorders can find their daily routes to be extremely challenging -- and occasionally very embarrassing.
Author and nutritionist Rachel Meltzer Warren offers a comprehensive, informed approach with a light touch in her new book "A Teen's Guide to Gut Health."
"The book is aimed at teenagers with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gut problems, although it can also be helpful for parents, teachers and coaches to get a better understanding of what young people with digestive issues may be going through and how they can help them manage their conditions. It's a user-friendly guide that helps to demystify the process of getting diagnosed with a gastro-intestinal disorder."
It's not an easy subject to discuss at any age, but can be especially difficult for teens. "For many students," continues Warren, "it's hard to bring digestive issues up with their parents or be honest with a doctor about their symptoms. They suffer in private and hope it will go away. An estimated 14 percent of high schoolers in North America have symptoms of IBS. It impacts a lot of young people."
Warren's practical look at the spectrum of gut and bowel problems includes an understandable guide to digestion, a list of issues that requires immediate medical care, conversation guides for this sensitive subject, a nutritional approach, recipes, and a list of handy apps, web sites, and print resources. It's helpful because it's a practical resource to improve a teen's lifestyle.
"In many cases, having a gut disorder has a significant impact on a teen's quality of life. Kids are almost always at the mercy of their school schedules and how generous a teacher is feeling with the hall pass." Warren has interviewed many teens, including one who spoke about the difficulty of managing his school day. "One high schooler wished his teacher would stop asking 'Is it an emergency?' before letting him go to the bathroom. It was always an emergency, but he didn't want to share that with the class." It's not unusual. As a result of this situation, Warren continues, kids with GI issues are more likely to miss days of school and have trouble getting involved in social situations. "Socially, it can be very isolating for a teenager to have digestive issues."
Warren also presents other approaches in her book, such as the Paleo and Blood Type diets, but believes teens with IBS benefit most from the Low-FODMAP diet in order to improve digestion, reduce fermentation and excess water in the gut, and calm irritation. "Research shows that approximately three quarters of people with IBS who go on a Low-FODMAP diet will experience an improvement in their symptoms without medication or anything expensive or extreme. It's simply by making careful, meaningful dietary changes."
"The Low-FODMAP diet was invented by researchers in Melbourne, Australia, at Monash University," Warren continues. FODMAPs is the acronym that stands for the classes of short-chain carbohydrates and alcohol sugars that tend to be poorly digested in people with IBS and other gut disorders. They are fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.
People can try various ways to reduce symptoms such as slowing down and chewing food thoroughly, eating three main meals per day rather than grazing, eliminating such major culprits as wheat, garlic and onions; and switching to lactose-free dairy products. However, a more systematic approach may be needed for diagnosis and treatment. The Low-FODMAP plan begins with tracking symptoms and using an "elimination diet."
Along with all of this helpful information, she also includes recipes for meals and snacks in her book, such as open-faced egg mash and quinoa tabbouleh -- a traditional Middle Eastern dish she has modified to "Go Low" as a nice make-ahead lunch.