A first of its kind US trial demonstrated that diet changes can help those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) overcome uncomfortable symptoms.
The study, the largest of its kind, measured the degree of relief from a low FODMAP diet, which stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols.
Irritable bowel syndrome can be highly debilitating, and affect work, personal and family relationships.
The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating and altered bowel habits such as diarrhea and/or constipation.
Many practitioners and patients have turned to diet as a possible treatment, but many of the dietary recommendations have not been backed by clinical trials.
The low FODMAP diet excludes many fermentable carbohydrates found in wheat, certain fruits and vegetables, garlic, onions and sugar substitutes.
Over a six-week process, registered dietitians educated and monitored the progress of more than 90 IBS patients. Roughly half followed a prescribed low FODMAP diet, and half were a control group that used a common-sense regimen, cutting down on large meals, binges and known irritants such as caffeine and alcohol.
Significant improvement in abdominal pain, bloating on low FODMAP diet
The results were impressive: More than 50 percent of the patients on the low FODMAP diet had major improvement of their abdominal pain, compared with 20 percent of the control group.
There was also more improvement of other bothersome symptoms compared to the control group including bloating, diarrhea and stool urgency.
At four weeks, the proportion of patients with a meaningful improvement in IBS quality of life was significantly higher in the low FODMAP group compared to the control group -- 61 percent versus 27 percent.
While the results are highly encouraging for IBS sufferers, there are a few important caveats, the researchers say.
Because of the many unknowns about the chemical causes and triggers of IBS, the list of "bad" foods is exhaustive and elusive, and help from a dietician is highly recommended.
Low-FODMAP is not a new treatment, but the investigators are now convinced that it really works.
It’s strongly recommended that IBS patients work with a registered dietitian to navigate the Low-FODMAP diet to take control of their IBS symptoms.
Source: Gastroenterology, April 2016.
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