Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): a Nutritional Approach
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition whose cause is largely unknown. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, altered bowel habits (diarrhea and/or constipation). It is a chronic medical condition. It is thought to affect around 15% of the Romanian female population and at least 20% of the world population.
Studies revealed that people with IBS experience a low quality of life even when compared to those suffering from CVD or other chronic diseases. In addition, patients with IBS feel embarrassed and are reluctant to speak to their GP about their bowel situation. They tend to suffer in silence and may become socially isolated.
For quite a long time, as the mechanisms of the disease were not understood, IBS was believed to be a psychological condition (“it’s all in your mind” stereotype) and was much ridiculed in the media. However, more recent research shows that the brain and the digestive system are in constant communication via the brain-gut axis and a complex combination of factors, including psychological stress, hormones, immune system and neurotransmitters, seems to interfere with the messages between the brain and the bowels. IBS has only recently begun to be extensively researched. As IBS is not a fatal disease, insufficient funds have been invested into research.
The treatment addresses the cause of this condition to the extent it can be identified and is primarily intended at changing the patient’s dietary habits and improving their lifestyle.
There are three basic approaches to IBS: diet, drug therapy and psychotherapy. Other less common therapies are also available.
Most patients with IBS are aware that symptoms are induced by certain foods and need to have a precise understanding of the triggering factors.
Treatment, either by alternative methods or by mainstream drug therapy, takes into account the predominant symptom: diarrhea and/or constipation and the triggering factors.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the patient cannot easily identify the food or foods that trigger the symptoms.
Dietitians specializing in gastrointestinal nutrition recommend the low- FODMAP diet (Fermentable Oligosaccharide, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) for a number of reasons:
- It is a scientifically approved method.
- It provides all the necessary nutrients.
- It helps patients avoid IBS symptoms for months, even years.
- It prevents symptoms from occurring although it does not cure the disease.
Most patients consider that changing their diet is preferable to drug treatments as IBS is a chronic disease and there are certain side effects associated with long-term use of drugs.
The low-FODMAP diet has proved to be effective in preventing and treating IBS symptoms both on a short and long-term basis.
Patients that adopt and keep to this diet on a permanent basis have significant benefits in terms of dealing with the IBS symptoms. Besides, as a result of giving up expensive long-term drugs they will see an improvement of their finances.