What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, long term condition of the digestive system that is thought to affect 10-20% of the global population. Women and people under the age of 50 are most commonly affected, with symptoms including lower abdominal pain, bloating, wind, and altered bowel habits such as constipation and diarrhoea.
Diagnosis of IBS is carried out by medical practitioners. If you suspect you have IBS you should always discuss this with your GP.
How can diet help?
There’s some great advice available for managing symptoms of IBS, particularly from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), who have set out guidelines for healthcare professionals and people with suspected or confirmed IBS. Amongst other recommendations, they suggest IBS sufferers eat regularly, avoid fizzy drinks, drink plenty of water, and limit fresh fruit consumption to three portions a day to help keep symptoms in check. If symptoms persist, health care professionals might try other dietary management approaches such as the low FODMAP diet.
The low FODMAP diet
Research shows that symptoms of IBS can be worsened by eating a diet high in particular short-chain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs. This is because FODMAPs are osmotically active, meaning they can pull water into the intestine causing diarrhoea and/or bloating. A build up of FODMAPs in the small intestine can also lead to bacterial fermentation, releasing gas and other by products.
Studies have found that following a low FODMAP diet can be effective in reducing IBS symptoms for around 70% of sufferers.
The low FODMAP diet is quite restrictive, and involves the strict exclusion of high FODMAP containing foods. Depending on tolerance levels, sometimes medium FODMAP containing foods are excluded too. This is then followed by a reintroduction phase which helps determine the patient’s tolerance to these particular foods.
Because of the complex nature of this diet, this process should only be undertaken under the close supervision of a FODMAP trained Registered Dietitian once a diagnosis of IBS has been confirmed.
Potential risks of the low FODMAP diet
It’s also important to note that following the low FODMAP diet long term could potentially lead to some health risks. Because the diet requires the exclusion of large groups of foods, some health professionals have voiced concerns that those on a low FODMAP diet may not get all the nutrients needed in a balanced diet.
It is therefore vital that the diet be followed with the help of a Registered Dietitian who can ensure suitable substitutes are made.
If you’d like to know more about FODMAPs, and the low FODMAP diet, make sure you read our blog post The FODMAP Digest.
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