The human body is immensely capable and complex, with numerous body systems working in harmony for you to live a happy and healthy life.
Did you know? The gastrointestinal tract plays an immensely important role within the body. Your stomach, intestines, and bowels extract nutrition from your body's food to survive and eliminate the rest.
Eating a healthy diet is one of the most common ways to support your GI health. Individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) face particularly unique challenges regarding their digestive health.
Below we explore what Irritable Bowel Syndrome is, foods you may want to avoid if you suffer from IBS, and ways you can achieve relief.
What Is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a fairly prevalent gastrointestinal problem that adults in the United States face. Globally, IBS is estimated to impact five to 10 percent of the population, which accounts for millions of people.
IBS is characterized by recurring abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, and changes to your stool frequency or consistency. The symptoms may seem relatively broad but they tend to be linked to a sensitivity of the intestinal lining.
IBS can also be further differentiated into different IBS types. These types include:
IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant IBS): Characterized by frequent, loose stools and an urgent need to have a bowel movement.
IBS-C (constipation-predominant IBS): Characterized by infrequent bowel movements and difficulty passing stools.
IBS-M (mixed): Characterized by alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea.
- IBS-U (unclassified): Characterized by symptoms that do not fit neatly into one of the other subtypes.
What Causes IBS?
One potential reason for IBS is that certain triggers interact with the intestinal wall, which may lead to spasms or alterations to the natural contraction of smooth muscle through the GI tract, known as peristalsis. These changes can result in abnormal movement through the intestines, subsequently causing the symptoms of IBS.
IBS can also be caused by an altered gut-brain connection which can lead to a heightened perception of abdominal pain, acute intestinal inflammation, or alterations to the gut microbiota. While there are many potential causes of IBS, they tend to all have similar presentations.
What Foods Should I Avoid With IBS?
Living with IBS can be difficult, especially if symptoms become recurrent. Recurrent IBS can be caused by certain triggers within your diet, which is why some people may choose not to eat certain foods.
Below is a closer look at some of the types of foods that may exacerbate IBS. Knowing which foods to look out for can help you lessen bouts of IBS and improve your overall quality of life. We recommend you consult a health professional if you believe that you may be suffering from IBS, to tailor a diet and nutrition plan that is specific to you.
Gluten Containing Foods
Gluten is a structural protein commonly found in foods derived from grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Whilst gluten is something that many people can digest without trouble, some individuals may have gluten sensitivity which makes it more difficult to digest.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea, similar to IBS. These symptoms generally improve when gluten is eliminated from the diet.
People with Celiac disease become intensely ill when consuming gluten in any form.
Many people rely on coffee in the morning, but the stimulatory effect may be less than ideal for those dealing with IBS. Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and energy drinks energize your body by acting as a stimulant and interacting with your brain to make you feel more awake and alert.
The stimulating effects of caffeine are not limited to the brain. Caffeine can stimulate the muscles lining the digestive tract, causing them to contract abnormally and produce IBS symptoms.
Foods High in Fructose
Fructose is a carbohydrate that is found in several foods. Fructose is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, including apples, grapes, asparagus, peas, and zucchini. Fructose is also frequently added to processed food and beverages as high-fructose corn syrup.
Fructose is not inherently bad, but its consumption could contribute to IBS symptoms in some individuals. A 2015 study found that a low-fructose diet was able to help improve IBS symptoms in some individuals.
Foods High in Polyols
Polyols are a group of small-chain carbohydrate molecules that are not readily absorbed by the body. These molecules can be fermented in the digestive tract, which may cause things like excessive gastrointestinal gas and bloating.
Some common polyols found in food include sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, and xylitol. Polyols are not inherently bad, but they may be less than ideal for someone dealing with gastrointestinal issues like IBS.
Polyols are found in a wide variety of foods. Polyols are naturally occurring in foods like broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms. Polyols can also be found naturally in the skin of certain fruits, such as apricots, apples, and nectarines.
One of the most common uses for polyols is artificial sweeteners. Opting for sugar-free items may help lower blood sugar but may exacerbate IBS.
Spicy ingredients are a staple in many dishes worldwide but may also lead to gastrointestinal upset and worsening IBS symptoms. Ingredients like chili peppers contain molecules that directly interact with receptors of the body to elicit a painful burning sensation that can extend to the GI tract.
A 2013 study found that individuals who ate spicy foods regularly had a higher prevalence of IBS.
Whilst many enjoy dairy products, they can unfortuantely contribute to IBS symptoms for individuals who cannot properly digest them. Lactose is a sugar found within dairy products that can be difficult to digest for some individuals.
The inability to digest this sugar is known as lactose intolerance. It can leave people with abdominal cramps, pain, indigestion, gas, and diarrhea upon eating foods with lactose, such as ice cream, milk, and other dairy products.
Strategies for Dealing With IBS
IBS is something that can drastically impact your quality of life. Dealing with abdominal pain, bloating, excessive gas, and stool irregularities can get in the way of your ability to live your life, attend events or even maintain your job.
Even though IBS can be challenging, there are strategies you can put in place to help reduce IBS flare-ups. Below is a closer look at some dietary changes and supplements that may help you achieve relief.
Establish Healthy Fiber Consumption
Fiber is irrefutably an important player in a well-rounded diet. Fiber helps to keep things moving along through your digestive tract by acting as roughage. A diet without sufficient soluble fiber and insoluble fiber can contribute to constipation.
While fiber is good for your digestive health, too much can contribute to gas, bloating, and even stool irregularity. If you have IBS, it is important to find a balance with fiber that facilitates healthy digestion without exacerbating IBS.
In addition, certain sources of fiber, such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and brussels sprouts), are known to trigger IBS symptoms when consumed too often or too much.
Some foods to add to your diet that contain plenty of fiber include:
- Legumes like chickpeas and lentils
- Certain fruits, like plums and watermelon
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole grains
The low-FODMAP diet is one of the most common elimination diets utilized by people with IBS. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols.
These molecules are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed within the small intestines and can contribute to excessive gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain for individuals with more sensitive GI tracts like those with IBS.
The low-FODMAP diet involves eliminating foods high in FODMAPs, and gradually reintroducing them to determine which specific types of FODMAPs trigger symptoms and which do not. This diet is best utilized as a short-term exploratory diet to discover which foods trigger IBS flare-ups and which do not.
In the long term, the diet can be incredibly limiting and contribute to nutritional deficiencies. If you are considering the low-FODMAP diet, consult your gastroenterologist or dietician before starting and ensure you have a plan to transition out of the diet after a set amount of time.
IBS symptoms can be difficult to manage. One natural remedy that may help soothe symptoms associated with an Irritable Bowel is Peppermint Oil. Peppermint oil contains menthol, which is commonly utilized as a topical soothing agent for physical discomfort; it may also have benefits when ingested.
The JSHealth IBS RELIEF + FORMULA is a supplement that contains extended-release Peppermint Oil to provide the soothing power of menthol to your digestive tract. This can help to soothe abdominal discomfort, aid in excessive flatulence, and help calm digestive spasms.
The intestines are home to trillions of bacteria that work harmoniously with the body to provide optimal gut health. When this natural gut flora becomes altered or unbalanced, it can cause GI problems and may even contribute to symptoms of IBS.
Probiotics can be a helpful means of supporting beneficial bacteria within your digestive tract. When the bacteria in your gut are happy, it can help facilitate healthy bowls, regular bowel movements, and optimal digestive health.
IBS is a fairly common condition that can have several different causes. Seeking personalised care from a trained healthcare professional such as a gastroenterologist, doctor or naturopath is the best way to treat your IBS.
You should also look to expand your diet with prebiotic rich foods and fiber to support your digestive system. Supplements can further reduce the frequency of IBS flare-ups and symptoms.