Can Food Allergy Contribute to IBS?

Irritable bowel symptoms lessened by knowing about food allergies and avoiding those items

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause pain, constipation and diarrhea. Those symptoms can also be caused by allergies to some foods. So, are some IBS symptoms caused by a food allergy?

Recently, researchers conducted a small study to test for food allergies in people with IBS. When participants eliminated foods they were allergic to, about 60 percent of them said they had at least some improvement in their IBS symptoms.

The authors suggested that food allergy tests may help people with IBS manage some symptoms.

"Ask a doctor if allergy testing is right for you."

The authors of the study, led by Michael B. Stierstorfer, MD at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, wanted to know if sensitivity to food items or food additives might contribute to symptoms of IBS.

They did a skin patch allergy test on 51 people with IBS. The skin patch test places a small amount of an item into a small scratch on the skin. If a person is allergic to an item, then that area of the skin will get red and inflamed.

The skin test for this study included food items like garlic, onion, artichoke, cucumber, carrots and lettuce. It also tested common food additives like vanilla, propylene glycol, benzoic acid and sorbic acid.

A total of 30 participants had a reaction to at least one item in the test, and 23 people agreed to remove the allergenic item or items from their diet for one week.

Of the 23 people who removed an allergic item from their diet, 9 (39 percent) reported no improvement in IBS symptoms, 3 (13 percent) reported slight improvement in symptoms, 8 (34.7 percent) reported a moderate improvement in symptoms and 3 (13 percent) said they had a great improvement in symptoms.

Overall, about 60 percent of the people with food and food additive allergies said they had at least some improvement in IBS symptoms when they eliminated those foods from their diet.

The authors concluded, “Food and food additive skin patch testing may be a useful diagnostic tool to identify allergens that, with dietary avoidance, may alleviate IBS symptoms.”

This study was small and included almost entirely women who had active IBS symptoms. Future research should include a larger and more diverse population.

This study was published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Dr. Stierstorfer has submitted a patent application for a skin patch test for IBS.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 13, 2013
Last Updated:
February 14, 2013