Q: I have irritable bowel syndrome. What can I eat to reduce the pain?
A: Altering your diet can definitely help reduce or eliminate the uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Which foods you should avoid – and which ones you should eat more of – depends on the IBS symptoms you are experiencing.
Doctors refer to IBS as a functional disorder, since there is no sign of any abnormality when a person’s large bowel, or colon, is examined. It’s thought that symptoms result from overly reactive and/or extra sensitive nerves that control muscles in the bowel.
Most people with IBS experience either diarrhea (IBS-D or diarrhea-predominant) or constipation (IBS-C or constipation-predominant), but some people alternate between diarrhea and constipation (IBS-A). People with IBS may also experience abdominal pain and bloating.
Start by assessing your diet for certain foods that set off or worsen your symptoms. I advise my clients to keep a food and symptom journal to determine if any foods bother them. In many people with IBS-D, fatty foods, caffeine, chocolate, alcoholic beverages, carbonated beverages, sorbitol (an artificial sweetener used in sugar-free gum and diet candies) and fructose (the simple sugar found in honey and many fruits) can worsen cramping and diarrhea.
People with IBS-C should include good sources of insoluble fiber such as wheat bran, 100 percent bran cereal, whole-grain cereals, fruits and vegetables in their daily diet to promote regular laxation. If you have IBS-D, it’s best to consume more soluble fiber – the type in oat bran, barley, psyllium husks, citrus fruit and legumes – which helps bind intestinal contents.
Increase your fiber intake gradually over a period of two to three weeks. Drink at least 8 cups of water each day. Fiber needs to absorb water so it can function effectively in the body.