Irritable bowel syndrome affects a significant segment of the population (around 15%). The underlying cause or causes of IBS is unknown, but it often manifests in a variety of symptoms like cramps, diarrhea, gas, bloating and constipation. To complicate matters further, each sufferer’s symptoms can be triggered by any number of factors specific to the individual. That means a nutritional strategy has to be self-tailored, possibly under the watch of a healthcare professional. We will examine what experts are saying about nutrition for IBS as well as some of the latest research.
The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders calls fiber a double-edged sword because some IBS sufferers may experience gas or bloating after use. However, they also add that almost every IBS sufferer would likely benefit from a moderate fiber increase. The IFFGD recommends gradually increasing fiber intake until reaching 20-35 grams per day (based on the individual’s recommended dietary allowance).
There is evidence that probiotics which contain Bifodacteria may alleviate or reduce some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. There is a caveat to this, however. In terms of IBS, it is less about just taking a probiotic and more about gut-flora manipulation. Some people found relief from IBS by taking antibiotics which kills gut flora, and others have benefited by gradually changing the landscape of their gut biome over time.
Digestive enzymes like amylase, lactase, protease and lipase help break down food, making digestion easier. There have only been two small studies on digestive enzymes and IBS. Both have been positive. One study found that enzymes improved post-meal IBS symptoms. The other showed that enzymes helped relieve gas and bloating.
Dr. Carolyn Dean wrote The Magnesium Miracle. She also, conveniently, wrote IBS for Dummies. In her works, she explains that magnesium taken orally can have a laxative effect, helpful for people whose IBS has made them constipated. However, if a person suffers from IBS-related diarrhea, he or she can use a topical magnesium on the skin to reap magnesium’s benefits without upsetting the stomach.
A Low-FODMAP Diet
There is evidence that short-chain carbohydrates (aka fermentable oligo-saccharides, si-saccharides, mono-saccharides and polyols) can aggravate IBS because they tend to ferment in the gut and cause gas. That is why many IBS sufferers choose to follow a low-FODMAP diet. You can find a complete list of low- and high-FODMAP foods here. Spicy foods, sugary foods and caffeine can be problematic as well.
AIM offers nutritional supplements that can fit into a low-FODMAP diet as well as digestive enzymes, probiotics, fiber and topical magnesium. But in the case of IBS, you should consult a medical practitioner before making any drastic dietary changes. This post is for education purposes only.