With IBS, What You Eat Matters

Diets do impact IBS symptoms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) When you talk about irritable bowel syndrome, diet has a way of entering the conversation. It's been shown that certain foods trigger uncomfortable symptoms – but which ones?

A new study compares the differences between the diets of people with different types of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and those without.

By breaking down food intake across the general population, the researchers found which foods might be responsible for a range of IBS symptoms.

"Talk to your doctor about your diet plan."

A team of researchers from the Department of Medicine at the Innlandet Hospital Trust in Gjøvik, Norway and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology examined data taken from a 2001 survey of over 4,600 participants.

They wanted to dip into this general health study in order to pull out comparisons between people who had untreated IBS and those who didn't have the condition.

IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder that's related to how your large or small intestines function. The most common symptom is abdominal pain.

If you have IBS, you might be diagnosed with one of three types:

  • IBS with constipation (C-IBS)
  • IBS with diarrhea (D-IBS)
  • IBS that alternates between constipation and diarrhea (A-IBS)

Digging into the data, researchers pulled out food groups that were associated with the respondents' symptoms.

Dairy – People with IBS tended to have lower intake of dairy products like milk and cheese. Lactose, as well as a milk protein called casein, and histamine, found in cheeses, tend to exacerbate symptoms.

The researchers expect that dairy intake is lower among people with IBS because it triggers symptoms.

Vegetables and Fruits – A higher intake of vegetables increased the severity of symptoms for people with C-IBS and A-IBS. A higher intake of fruits and berries increased the number of symptoms for people with D-IBS.

Vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage can produce gas. The sweetness factor of fruits and berries – fructose – can trigger abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.

Beverages – People with A-IBS drank more water and tea, compared to people without IBS. People with D-IBS also drank lots of water, as well as carbonated beverages (soda).

Drinking water is recommended for IBS, but caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee may be constipating. The researchers suggested that people with IBS may be trying to replace milk with other beverages, but soda is usually associated with worse symptoms.

The general recommendation is to steer clear of caffeinated and carbonated beverages to avoid triggering symptoms.

Alcohol – People with D-IBS had the highest alcohol intake compared to people with other types of IBS, as well as those without IBS. Doctors advise IBS patients to stay away from alcohol, as it stimulates the intestine and makes diarrhea worse.

The researchers suspect that the reason D-IBS sufferers drink more alcohol is a misguided attempt to relieve severe symptoms.

In the paper, the researchers advise that each patient be considered individually when it comes to the above-mentioned food groups. They wrote that more research should be done to understand why these foods trigger symptoms.

The study was published in June 2012 in BMC Gastroenterology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 17, 2012
Last Updated:
November 9, 2012