For sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), newly published guidelines for managing IBS with diet support the use of several different approaches.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder affecting between 5 and 15 percent of people. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal bloating, pain, flatulence, diarrhoea and altered bowel habits. The condition can be difficult to diagnose because other conditions share the same symptoms. Currently there is no specific diagnostic test for IBS.
The cause of IBS is unknown, but environmental factors such as changes in routine, emotional stress, infection and diet are all known to trigger an attack.
Dietary guidelines for managing IBS
Wading through the complex research into treatments for IBS, the American College of Gastroenterology in their recently published guidelines have found support for several dietary treatment for IBS that could help.
The first recommendation is increasing the amount of fibre eaten each day, especially the more soluble form found in psyllium. There is good evidence for a benefit of supplementing the diet with 10 grams of psyllium per day. In contrast, bulking up on more insoluble fibre such as bran can make IBS worse, rather than better.
Two other treatments that were considered worth investigating were probiotics and peppermint oil. For probiotics, it is not clear yet which ones in terms of species of bacteria and the form they are found in are best. Part of the ‘soothing and calming’ benefit of peppermint oil on the gastrointestinal system may come from its menthol content.
On the horizon, there is some promise that gluten-free and low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diets can help reduce symptoms of IBS, but it is a clear case of ‘watch this space’ at present.
Outside of diet, managing IBS guidelines also support the use of antidepressant medications and psychological therapy. And while not appearing in the guidelines, there is some interesting work being done in the area of mindfulness in helping to manage IBS, something I’ve blogged about before.
What it all means
For long-term sufferers of difficult-to-treat IBS, there is merit in trying the different types of dietary treatment for some relief from IBS.