IBS: One in every eight people

January 7, 2019

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional GI disorder, particularly in women.  Studies estimate that IBS affects 1 in 8 people worldwide, and approximately half of those people also manage other gastrointestinal (GI) issues like gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD), diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

When struggling to manage multiple GI issues, especially ones that are poorly understood like IBS, people tend to alter their diet to avoid trigger foods, use over-the-counter medications, take a daily probiotic, and increase fiber intake.  Unfortunately, those remedies don’t always bring relief to people with IBS as they would for others.  That is probably because a multi-factorial approach is needed; one that considers the microbiota in the gut, psychosocial factors, the gut-brain axis, visceral sensitivity, motility, enzymatic activity, and nutritional deficiencies.

Let’s focus on the food component for now.  50 – 84% of people with IBS feel that food triggers are the major source of GI symptoms.  Common trigger foods are bread, chili peppers, onions, beans, fried foods, dairy products, alcohol, coffee, and carbonated drinks.  Gluten and lactose are often charged as culprits, and there is supporting scientific evidence.  When a gluten-free, lactose-free diet isn’t enough to alleviate symptoms, there are more complex diets and elimination diets.  One that was effective in reducing IBS symptoms in clinical trials is the low FODMAP diet.  Although, it should be noted that it is difficult to do a proper double blinded study when food is involved.  People tend to know when they have been given the diet meal versus the regular meal.

There are also readily available food intolerances tests that should be used with caution.  Most are not accurate and do not use scientifically supported markers of food intolerance.  Whenever making dietary changes, always consult your doctor, especially if it is an incredibility restrictive diet or one that you plan for follow for more than a few weeks.

The more restrictive diets, like the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet, can be challenging.  Luckily, there are terrific resources and supportive communities to help you along.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed managing IBS symptoms, know that you are not alone.  Remember, one in eight people all across the global are facing the same issue.

In addition to a multitude of social media based support groups, the ETP food coaches are here to guide you to a management strategy that reduces GI symptoms.  Because IBS is multi-faceted, it may take some time to find the right strategy to manage your symptoms.  Be patient with yourself.

If you’re interested in the scientific details, check out the following scholarly journal articles.

Pauls RN, Max JB. Symptoms and dietary practices of irritable bowel syndrome patients compared to controls: results of a United States National survey. Minerva Gastroenterol Dietol. 2018 Oct 2.

Whelan K, Martin LD, Staudacher HM, Lomer MCE. The low FODMAP diet in the management of irritable bowel syndrome: an evidence-based review of FODMAP restriction, reintroduction and personalisation in clinical practice. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2018 Apr;31(2):239-255. Epub 2018 Jan 15.


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