How Does Food Trigger IBS Symptoms?

Changes to the intestinal permeability may lead to IBS symptoms. Some foods and beverages may make certain people particularly prone to IBS by increasing intestinal permeability and inflammation.1 Foods may lead to hypersensitivities and allergic reactions that increase the likelihood of developing IBS.2

Trigger Foods

Trigger foods are offending foods that may cause an adverse reaction. This may be categorized as a food intolerance. Food intolerance correlates with anxiety levels. Therefore, anxiety levels seem to be a predictor of food-related symptoms of IBS.3

Food Intolerance

IBS symptoms in 25% of patients may be caused or exacerbated by at least one part of their diet. Food intolerance is different for everyone, so it may be necessary to experiment with foods to find out which foods will lead to IBS symptoms. Studies have shown that fermentable, poorly absorbed carbohydrates (fructose, fructans, sorbitol, lactose) may cause IBS symptoms or make them worse. Fructose is naturally present in honey, fruits, and fruit juices, but can be added in the form of high-fructose corn syrup to a lot of processed foods. Fructans are present in most wheat-based products and in onions. Sorbitol can be found in “sugarless” and diet products. Therefore, a diet low in fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) has been suggested to improve IBS symptoms.3

Food Poisoning

Contaminated food is typically not the cause of IBS symptoms, but some people may develop post-infectious IBS following an incident of food poisoning.3

Meal-Induced Symptoms

More than 60% of people with IBS report worsening of symptoms after meals. For 93% of IBS sufferers, symptoms started within 3 hours after a meal. For 28% of IBS sufferers, symptoms started within 15 minutes after a meal. Reasons for these symptoms may be an abnormal level of gassiness, abnormal processes in the colon, and intolerance to specific foods, or sometimes psychological factors.3

Meal Size

The relative risk of IBS was more than three times higher among binge eaters than non-binge eaters. For some people, large meals may cause IBS symptoms.3

Can Fiber Help Relieve Symptoms?

Despite fiber’s healthy qualities, it’s only marginally beneficial. In fact, insoluble fiber may worsen symptoms. Insoluble fibers include wheat bran and corn bran. For people with constipation, soluble fiber can improve their symptoms.3

Improving Symptoms with Peppermint Oil and Tumeric

Daily use of peppermint oil may be a simple way to relieve IBS symptoms. In addition, as a member of the ginger family, turmeric and curcumin have anti-inflammatory effects, which may improve symptoms.3

Dietary changes to improve symptoms

Based on the personal experience of people with IBS, the following lifestyle changes were considered for treatment or management of IBS.3

  • Eating small meals
  • Avoiding fatty foods
  • Higher fiber intake
  • Avoiding milk products
  • Avoiding carbohydrates
  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol
  • Eating fewer high-protein foods (meats)
Written by: Truc Thanh | Last reviewed: June 2016.
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