Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common condition affecting the gut.
Symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating, excessive flatulence, as well as diarrhoea, constipation, or if you’re really lucky…both! IBS is probably a lot more common than you think. It affects 1 in 5 people in the UK and approximately 11% of people globally. This is also just the number of people who have been officially diagnosed, discounting those suffering in silence. As IBS can be viewed as an embarrassing condition, many people will avoid talking about the symptoms of the condition and simply go on living in pain and discomfort. This potentially may be the reason why more women than men are diagnosed with IBS, as generally women are more open to talking to their GP.
As a sufferer myself, I know first-hand that IBS can make you feel isolated; not wanting to leave the house in case something triggers a symptom. Holidays and days out can often be ruined and shops and restaurants cannot be visited until the toilet location is scoped out prior to the visit. The cause of IBS or why only some people get it is still unknown, however there are contributing factors which have been seen to trigger symptoms. These include stress, medication, diet along with food allergies and intolerances. If you have IBS it is so important to get it diagnosed by a GP so that any other conditions can first be ruled out.
Once a diagnosis of IBS has been made, this is where a low FODMAP diet can be beneficial. The diet was devised in Australia by Dr Sue Shepherd and Dr Peter Gibson as a way to help IBS sufferers stay symptom free in the long term. For a very quick overview, and to avoid becoming overly scientific; FODMAP is an acronym referring to:
Basically, these FODMAPs are groups of short chain carbohydrates which are poorly absorbed by some people causing a host of digestive issues and are therefore viewed as the dietary root cause of IBS.
The low FODMAP diet has been scientifically proven to help relieve symptoms in three quarters of IBS sufferers. Although it will not cure the condition, it can help prevent triggering symptoms. The diet is complex with many guidelines and a ‘one rule fits all’ definitely does not apply here. The diet is a trial and error process with both an elimination and reintroduction phase. The diet starts with all FODMAPs eliminated and should be followed for 6 weeks to two months. Once improvements have been seen, then weekly, individual FODMAPS can be reintroduced to determine which ones contribute to symptoms and which ones can be tolerated. When administered properly under correct guidance the diet can be a long-term saviour and still provide all the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Please contact me if you suffer from IBS and together we can review how your diet can help ease your symptoms. In the meantime, keep in mind the below general dietary rules to help reduce the severity of IBS symptoms:
- Eat more slowly!!
- Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine intake
- Keep a food diary to determine any patterns between symptoms and food consumed
- Reduce stress levels
- Stay hydrated
- Exercise regularly
Canavan, C., West, J. & Card, T., 2014. The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clin Epidemiol, Volume 6, pp. 71-80.
Shepherd, D. S. & Gibson, D. P., 2014. The complete low FODMAP diet. London: Vermilion London.
Staudacher, H. et al., 2017. A Diet Low in FODMAPs Reduces Symptoms in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome and A Probiotic Restores Bifidobacterium Species: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Gastroenterology, 153(4), pp. 936-947.