Does Eliminating FODMAPS Help Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

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If you suffer from IBS, you know the symptoms to well and they can happen when you least expect it. You are out to dinner on Saturday night, enjoying the company of your friends and the delicious food sitting on the table in front of you. Within minutes you are in debilitating pain, you have the sudden urge to go to the bathroom, your friends are starting to notice something is not right, and you make a run for the bathroom. It becomes your worst nightmare. You have just had an Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) attack. Once you have a bad IBS attack, it’s always on the back of your mind. When will the next one happen?

Nowadays, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is extremely common. IBS ‘is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder affecting one in seven Australian adults and is characterised by chronic and relapsing symptoms.’ (1) But although it’s high prevalence, there are dietary principles such as a low FODMAP diet that are helping people to prevent and manage IBS symptoms.

What Are FodMaps

FODMAPs are the abbreviation referring to Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are the scientific names given to a collection of molecules; short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols, that are found in the foods we consume. On the most part, we absorb these molecules quite well. But for some of us, they are poorly absorbed by our small intestines in our digestive systems. The first point of digestion occurs in the small intestine. This is where most of, if not all the digestion happens. But when the molecules are poorly absorbed in the small intestine they continue down along to the large intestine. When food molecules get to here, they become a food source for the bacteria living in the large intestine. It’s when these bacteria of the large intestines digest these FODMAPs, fermenting them, is when the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) become relevant. (2)

Examples of the most common FODMAPs include:
  • Lactose: The body struggles to absorb milk sugar; which is found in, and causes an IBS reaction to milk, yogurt and ice cream.
  • Fructose: The body poorly absorbs fruit sugar; which is found in and causes an IBS reaction to fruit, high-fructose corn syrup, honey and agave syrup)
  • Fructans: This is a type of fibre that the small intestine struggles to ingest causing an IBS reaction to wheat, onions, and garlic
Symptoms of Fodmaps Intolerence

Symptoms of Fodmaps intolerance like Irritable Bowel Syndrome can vary from person to person; in terms of the symptoms themselves, and the severity in which the individual suffers. Symptoms of Fodmaps, or the more common term of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) include:

-Abdominal bloating and discomfort
-Flatulence
-Nausea
-Diarrhoea
-Constipation.

FODMAP Elimination Diet

The FODMAP Elimination diet allows you to monitor your symptoms in relation to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to figure out which foods are causing discomfort. You will be advised to remove the molecules (mentioned above) from your diet, to alleviate the symptoms. With guidance from your health professional, you will reintroduce the FODMAPs back into your diet, one at a time. This will allow you to find the cause of your symptoms; which fodmap is being poorly digested. It could be all the molecules that are responsible for your symptoms, or if you’re lucky, it can be just one or two molecules. Once the link has been discovered, you can then slowly re introduce the FODMAP, in moderation, back into your diet. The aim of the FODMAP Elimination diet is not to restrict anyone’s diet, or cut out essential food groups. The end goal is to consume a varied diet that your body can tolerate. (3)

Take Home Message

Going on a low FODMAP diet is not essential for everyone. Like any other diet, eating plan or nutrition concept, it is not a one diet for all scenario. Going on a Low FODMAP diet requires reducing, or cutting out a food group or type of food, therefore it is essential that it is fine tuned to the individual who needs it. Not all FODMAPs will cause triggers, and the severity of the triggers will vary from person to person. A low FODMAP diet should never be the long term result. FODMAPs are prebiotic molecules that promote good bacteria in our guts. They are therefore important for long term gut health and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Make sure you seek medical and professional help before going on a low FODMAP diet.

1. Jacqueline S. Barrett and Peter R. Gibson. Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) and nonallergic food intolerance: FODMAPs or food chemicals? Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2012 Jul; 5(4): 261–268.
2. Halmos EP, Power VA, Shepherd SJ, Gibson PR, Muir JG. A diet low in FODMAPs reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology. 2014 Jan;146(1):67-75.e5. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.09.046. Epub 2013 Sep 25.
3. Suma Magge, MD and Anthony Lembo, MD. Low-FODMAP Diet for Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2012 Nov; 8(11): 739–745.

This article was originally written by Tammy Kacev for Dr Steven Lin’s blog. The link below will take you to the original article.

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