Dietary Help for Common Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Section: Ask EN
Q. I have irritable bowel syndrome; what dietary remedies might help?

A. There are many to try, though not all will help everyone. Certainly, you are not alone. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most frequently diagnosed digestive disorder in the U.S. It is characterized by abdominal pain, cramps, bloating and diarrhea alternating with constipation. Women are two to three times as likely to have the condition as men. Many other disorders mimic the symptoms of IBS, including food allergies, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These should be ruled out first.

Most people with IBS are able to control symptoms with diet and stress management, but may need medication. The most promising, alosetron hydrochoride (Lotronex), was taken off the market in November 2000 due to dangerous side effects. With both drug therapy and diet management, relief varies with the individual.

Individualize Your Eating. “There really isn't a specific diet per se for IBS,” says Pat Baird, M.A, R.D., nutrition consultant and author (Be Good to Your Gut, 1996, Blackwell Science). “The most widely accepted eating plan is high in fiber, low in fat and avoids gastric irritants like coffee, alcohol, cruciferous vegetables and citrus.”

The amount and timing of meals may also help control IBS symptoms. “Eating three meals a day—a good breakfast, a modest lunch and light dinner—often helps,” says Sohrab Mobarhan, M.D., co-director of the division of gastroenterology at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, who has treated IBS sufferers for years.

“Avoiding fried foods is important,” he adds, “but there's no need to avoid dairy, unless you're lactose intolerant.”

What Works. The following tips may help people who suffer with IBS:

Keep a detailed food diary to identify which foods trigger symptoms. Common offenders include fatty foods, beans, caffeine, alcohol and gassy foods like onions and cabbage.
Avoid “skipping or stuffing.” Try to eat at least three meals a day or eat small, frequent mini-meals.
Include high-fiber foods every day. However, wheat bran may worsen symptoms. Fiber supplements containing psyllium may help regulate bowel function.
Exercise regularly. Relieve stress with yoga, meditation or hypnosis.

Share this with your friends