While this might be a poorly-timed subject to read about during your lunch break, learning about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) could help you or someone you care about who suffers from IBS symptoms. As my colleague describes in this blog, IBS is characterized by abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements. It affects 10-15% of Americans – and double the number of women than men – and accounts for 2.4 to 3.5 million annual physician visits in the United States. Experts believe that only a fraction of individuals seek medical care for their symptoms, so it is probably safe to say that more of us have IBS than we know about. As April is IBS Awareness month, it is a good time to get educated about this troubling set of complaints and in particular, learn how nutrition and other lifestyle changes can make a difference.
There are different types of IBS:
Lifestyle modifications can be very helpful in managing the symptoms of IBS. Nutrition therapies, supplements, herbal remedies, stress management, physical activity, and sleep hygiene might play some role in making you feel better. There are also some new medications that are helping people with IBS.
In particular, a relatively new system for eating that is catching on and helping improve symptoms for many IBS sufferers is the Low FODMAP Diet. Developed by a researchers at Monash University in Australia, the team determined that foods have varying degrees of fermentability (that is what the “F” stands for). Foods that are highly fermentable in the gastrointestinal tract can contribute to bloating, abdominal pain and bowel changes. Some high FODMAP foods can be osmotically active, meaning they draw excess water into the gut, contributing to loose and sometimes urgent stool production.
The other letters of FODMAP stand for oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, groups of carbohydrates that are well tolerated by and full of healthful benefits for many people. But for people with IBS, too many of these foods at one time can be troublesome.
Trying out the Low FODMAP Diet is a bit of a controlled experiment, best done with the help of a registered dietitian with digestive health experience. Our nutrition team at Atrius Health can be a source of helpful counseling and guidance if you are looking for assistance with managing your IBS and other gastrointestinal conditions.