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A Way to Combat the Unpredictability of Living With Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you know the frustrating inconvenience of constant stomach discomfort and urgent bathroom trips, you may be among the estimated one in five Americans with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. April is IBS Awareness Month, so it's an important time to shed light on this condition that affects millions of people nationwide. Did you know IBS occurs twice as often in women than men, and while commonly seen in middle-aged adults, IBS frequently affects seniors into their seventies and eighties? Yet up to 75 percent of patients with irritable bowel syndrome lack a formal medical diagnosis.

What is IBS?

IBS is a common ailment that causes bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea. It's sometimes known as having a "spastic colon." IBS differs from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in that the structure of the bowels in IBS is still normal with no inflammation.

IBS is known as "functional disorder," whereas the more serious IBD is a group of bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, where the bowels are abnormally inflamed, have ulcers, or are otherwise damaged. Regardless, bowel issues are extremely painful and inconvenient, especially when they continue into older age.

What are FODMAPs and how do they affect IBS?

FODMAP sounds funny to say, but these foods are anything but funny for those with IBS. FODMAP is an acronym that stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols. Essentially, these are carbohydrates (sugars) found in the foods we eat. FODMAPs are typically not digested very easily within the intestinal tract and tend to pull excess water into the bowels as they are absorbed. Bacteria in the small and large intestines also tend to ferment FODMAPs very quickly, creating a lot of gas. These processes lead to bloating, gas and backup in the gut.

Recent findings have suggested that eliminating FODMAPs from a person’s diet as often as possible may reduce IBS symptoms.

According to Dr. Larry Bookman, a retired physician who specialized in gastroenterology and internal medicine, “Avoiding FODMAPs doesn’t help everyone. But we do see people who have their IBS symptoms improve right away after making these dietary changes." 

He continues, "There are some new medications for IBS that show great promise, and other new treatments on the horizon. Although a low FODMAP diet is not a cure for IBS, it does make some people feel better.”

Commonly consumed high-FODMAP foods include:

  • honey
  • fruit juice
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • sugar-free gum
  • candies sweetened with sorbitol or xylitol
  • milk
  • ice cream
  • sour cream
  • cream cheese
  • cottage cheese
  • ricotta
  • whey protein supplements
  • wheat bread
  • pasta
  • sugary cereals
  • crackers
  • waffles
  • onion
  • garlic
  • mushrooms
  • beans
  • soybeans
  • peas
  • pistachios
  • high-fructose fruits such as apples, watermelons, and blackberries
  • fruits with pits, such as avocados, cherries, and peaches

This is not a complete list, and it is not always possible to completely eliminate certain foods from one’s diet. However, reducing high-FODMAP foods, over time, may lead to some degree of symptom relief for those with IBS.

Minimize digestive issues with low-FODMAP foods

Although the list above may seem restricting, there are plenty of delicious, healthy low-FODMAP foods that those with IBS can still enjoy. Take a look at the list below for ideas on foods that are less likely to trigger stomach issues.

  • tomatoes
  • zucchini
  • lettuce
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • bell peppers
  • spinach
  • bananas
  • blueberries
  • strawberries
  • cantaloupe
  • grapes
  • oranges
  • grapefruit
  • corn products
  • oat products
  • rice
  • quinoa
  • potatoes
  • peanuts
  • walnuts
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • chia seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • lactose-free dairy and hard cheeses
  • meats
  • eggs
  • fish

Keeping IBS under control

Healthy eating may look a little different for those with IBS issues, but making switches wherever possible to low-FODMAP foods can decrease pain and discomfort while providing key nutrients. Along with changing your diet, things like increasing your fiber intake and managing your stress level can also help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

As always, if you’re having frequent stomach and bowel issues and would like guidance on managing symptoms and implementing a low-FODMAP diet that works for you, the physicians at INTEGRIS Health are here to help.

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