Frequently asked questions about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
1. If I cut out gluten, will it reduce my IBS symptoms?
There’s very little scientific evidence that shows that a gluten-free diet improves irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. To date, only one study showed that it could help ease abdominal pain, improve satisfaction with stool consistency and improve tiredness.
If you wish to follow a gluten-free diet, you should consider the following: cost, nutritional adequacy and actual effectiveness in the long run. Excluding all gluten can be difficult and it can negatively affect your quality of life.
2. Does alcohol affect my IBS symptoms?
Some people with IBS react negatively to alcohol while others don’t. However, when it comes to binge drinking, it’s more likely that your high alcohol intake is affecting your symptoms. If you suspect that alcohol is making your symptoms worse, keep a food diary and consult with a registered dietitian who has a special interest in IBS.
Remember to keep your alcohol intake within safe limits for your health in general and to reduce other risky behaviours.
3. Does dietary fibre improve IBS symptoms? If so, what kinds of foods should I eat?
For overall gut health, the recommended fibre intake is 30g per day. Your symptom profile may determine how much and which type of fibre you require. Working with a registered dietitian can be helpful as they’ll assess your current intake and recommend whether or not an increase in fibre intake is needed.
Generally speaking, for overall gut health and good stool consistency a wide variety of high-fibre carbohydrate foods should be eaten daily. This includes vegetables, fruit, oats, oat bran, brown rice, whole wheat or rye bread, and whole grain pasta.
4. If I have constipation. Would you recommend a specific type of fibre?
Some studies show that ground linseeds may relieve constipation, abdominal discomfort and bloating in individuals with IBS who struggle with constipation. Linseeds should always be consumed with fluid and can be added to other foods (e.g. yoghurt, breakfast cereal, porridge, homemade bread, casserole, soup, salad).
5. Should I eliminate milk and dairy products to improve my IBS symptoms?
Many people with IBS don’t eat or drink milk and/or dairy products. This can negatively affect their calcium intake. Studies show that if you restrict only lactose, it may only provide marginal symptom relief. Therefore, lactose restriction is generally considered as part of a low-FODMAP diet. Work with a registered dietitian who has a special interest in IBS to see if you’re a candidate for this type of diet.
6. Do spicy foods have an effect on my IBS symptoms?
There’s no hard evidence to suggest that you should eliminate all spicy foods if you have IBS. However, if you feel that spicy foods affect your symptoms, a trial restriction is recommended. Remember that other components of spicy meals (e.g. onion and garlic – high-FODMAP foods) may rather be the culprits.
7. Should I be taking a probiotic supplement if I have IBS?
There are so many probiotic products out on the market that all vary according to dose and bacterial strains therefore official recommendations for the use of probiotics have not been made. Currently there is a lack of evidence to recommend any specific product and it is not known if taking a probiotic will actually help reduce IBS symptoms.
Although taking a probiotic supplement is considered safe, long term effects are not known. Speak to your health care professional about trialling a probiotic supplement/s to see whether your symptoms are affected.
Reviewed by Kim Hofmann, registered dietitian, BSc Medical (Honours) Nutrition and Dietetics, BSc (Honours) Psychology. January 2018.