What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a long-term condition characterised by recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort associated with changes in the stool’s form and frequency. The abdominal pain is typically accompanied by bloating and is relieved through defecation.
The central management plan for IBS is through dietary and lifestyle modifications. While the general IBS diet may effectively control symptoms in some patients, the use of probiotics and a low FODMAP diet are experiencing a rise in popularity due to recent studies identifying increasing evidence of their effectiveness. Hence, this article aims to provide a brief overview of the two dietary modifications that may help you control your IBS symptoms.
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria that are commonly added to certain foods and supplements such as yoghurt. The most effective and preferred probiotic for IBS contains the bacterium Bifidobacterium infantis (or other B infantis strains), which has shown in several studies to reduce some patients’ symptoms. When taking probiotics, it is recommended you take them regularly for four weeks to see how they affect your symptoms. If you do not see any changes, it might be worth trying a different strain probiotic. You should, however, discontinue taking a probiotic product if your symptoms worsen.
A low FODMAP diet
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, a group of short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. As a result, they are readily fermented by colonic bacteria and cause water movement into your gut which can cause bloating, passing of gas, pain and diarrhoea. Recent evidence suggests that a low FODMAP diet can significantly decrease IBS symptoms compared to a high-FODMAP diet.1
To follow a low FODMAP diet, you should aim to eat fewer foods containing lactose (found in Cow’s milk, yoghurt, cheese), fructose (in sweeteners and fruits such as apples and pears), fructans (found in vegetables such as broccoli and garlic, wheat and rye), oligosaccharides (in chickpeas, kidney beans) and polyols (found in sweeteners, fruits and vegetables such as cauliflower and mushrooms).2
On the other hand, there are also foods you should increase your intake of; these include cucumber, bean sprouts and lettuce; fruits such as bananas and blueberries; protein through beef, chicken and fish; and grains such as rice and quinoa.
To find a more extensive list of foods you should avoid and foods you should eat more of, visit https://www.ibsdiets.org/fodmap-diet/fodmap-food-list/.
However, it is essential to note that a low FODMAP diet’s fundamental aim is to reduce only problematic foods. You may find you can tolerate certain foods better than others, and some do have health benefits. More importantly, while a low FODMAP diet is better than a high FODMAP diet, there is little evidence of its effectiveness compared to the conventional IBS diet.
If you have any concerns about IBS or would like to discuss dietary and lifestyle changes further with a GP, please feel free to book an appointment with one of our GPs by either visiting our website or call us on 0203 371 0995.
1. Altobelli E, del Negro V, Angeletti PM, Latella G. Low-FODMAP diet improves irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: A meta-analysis [Internet]. Vol. 9, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2017 [cited 2021 Mar 17]. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC5622700/
2. Try a FODMAPs diet to manage irritable bowel syndrome – Harvard Health [Internet]. [cited 2021 Mar 17]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/a-new-diet-to-manage-irritable-bowel-syndrome