Dear Martina, I am in my early 30s and often suffer from digestive problems.

I am bloated and windy most of the time and suffer from constipation and sometimes diarrhoea - there seems to be no particular pattern to this.

Could it be due to something I am eating? This problem is really getting me down and I also feel very tired. Please help. Jackie S., Worthing Dear Jackie, I am sorry to hear about your digestive problems and not at all surprised that they are wearing you out! If the digestive system is not functioning well, there are immediate knock-on effects for the rest of the body. You may be suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which is a very common condition in 20-40 year-olds. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis from your doctor. Symptoms are commonly abdominal cramps or pain, gas and bloating, alternating diarrhoea and constipation, nausea and the passing of mucus.

IBS has a multitude of underlying causes which need investigating. Food allergies to dairy or wheat are common and can cause severe distress. So can parasites or other nasty bacteria. There are now specific tests available that can accurately evaluate digestion, absorption, intestinal function and micro bialflora. These uncover the fundamental causes of many acute and chronic symptoms and enable health professionals to tailor treatment specifically to each client. Some people's digestive problems are aggravated by stress, whilst others insist that it is the IBS that causes the stress!

However, there are various strategies you can employ to alleviate symptoms:

*Take time to eat at mealtimes - relax before you even start your meal and chew your food very thoroughly. This helps your digestive system produce the enzymes needed to break down foods.

*Drink at least six to eight glasses of water daily to hydrate the body and keep stools soft. Peppermint tea after meals or peppermint oil in capsules can help to ease symptoms.

*Increase the fibre content of your diet with plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, legumes, wholegrains such as brown rice, millet, corn, quinoa and oats (wheat and wheat bran may be too harsh on the intestines and are best avoided).

*Eliminate suspect allergenic foods. Apart from wheat and dairy, pulses, alcohol, coffee, chocolate, citrus fruit, onions, eggs and the artificial sweetener sorbitol may be culprits in IBS symptoms. If you suspect a certain food may be a trigger, avoid it for a couple of weeks and reintroduce it gradually, monitoring the results (a diet diary is a good idea).

*Avoid sugar, processed and spicy foods and limit alcohol, coffee, tea and nicotine.

*To help rebalance gut bacteria which aid digestion and prevent pathogens taking over, supplement with a quality pro biotic daily such as Bioacidophilus from Bio Care (from health stores or tel.0121-433-3727).

Digestive enzyme supplements or hydrochloric acid may be needed for a period of time -a qualified nutritionist should give you individual guidance on this and on herbs such as slippery elm and marshmallow to help soothe and heal your digestive tract.

Good luck!