Constipation. Irritable bowel syndrome. Diarrhea. Heartburn. Indigestion. These common GI problems are an everyday issue for many of us. In fact, 60-70 million Americans regularly have GI issues. (There is a reason we’re referred to as the “constipation nation.”)
Most are considered diet and lifestyle related but millions of dollars are spent on laxatives, OTC digestive aids and doctors visits. The direct and indirect costs to treat the conditions is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
One of the most common chronic GI conditions is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which afflicts up to 15% of the population and is twice as common among women compared to men. It’s a condition characterized by a variety of symptoms, which vary from person to person. Common symptoms include altered stool form (loose/water or hard/lumpy), constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and general digestive discomfort. Some may only have mild discomfort while others suffer more severe signs and symptoms.
Up to 65% of IBS patients report that their IBS symptoms are triggered by food. New research in the treatment of IBS, and reported recently in the Wall Street Journal, is focusing on eliminating certain foods containing short-chain carbohydrates that may be more problematic for those with IBS compared to the rest of us.
Recent studies are looking at eliminating sources of these carbs that are highly fermentable, poorly-absorbed (read: gas-producing) as an important trigger of symptoms for IBS sufferers. A few studies have tested a diet low in these types of carbohydrates—called a low-FODMAP diet, and have had positive results. One study in the UK found that about 80% of IBS sufferers following a low-FODMAP diet reported improvements in their symptoms compared to those following traditional IBS diet advice. Specifically, 82% reported less bloating, 85% had less abdominal pain and 87% reported less gas.
[sws_blockquote_transparent align=”left” source=”” quotestyle=”sws_transparent02″] FODMAPS is an acronym that for stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. [/sws_blockquote_transparent]
Experts believe that in IBS symptoms are caused by poor absorption of those types of carbohydrates in the small intestine, which leads to gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. The diet is restrictive because these carbohydrates are present in so many foods including most dairy products, some fruits and vegetables, wheat, rye, corn syrup and sugar alcohols used commonly as sugar substitutes in many products.
IF you suffer from IBS, the best way to see if FODMAPS are a source of your symptoms, try eliminating them by following a Low-Fodmap diet for at least a week. If you are symptom-free, you then know that you’re having a problem fully absorbing the short-chain carbohydrates normally present in your diet.
If you suspect you have IBS or any other serious GI disorder, you should see your healthcare professional. A registered dietitian and gastroenterologist can help develop a diet and lifestyle approach to better manage your conditions.
–Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD