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Diet and Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Mankanwal Sachdev, MD, a gastroenterology and internal medicine specialist at Banner Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert, Ariz..

Question: I was told I have irritable bowel syndrome. Are there certain foods I should avoid or add to my diet?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common yet non-life-threatening medical condition that is most frequently associated with stomach pain, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation. When managed through diet and exercise, it does not interfere with one’s quality of life.

Rather than succumb to fads, your best bet is to eat a well-balanced diet that is low in sugar and includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.

While there are no general recommendations on which foods to avoid, it is important to remember that everyone reacts to certain foods differently. Beans and other foods that are more difficult to digest or cause excessive gas may worsen symptoms. Discovering which foods you should avoid or eat in moderation is a matter of trial and error.  

Since IBS is sometimes linked to lactose intolerance and gluten insensitivity, a condition known as celiac disease, some people unnecessarily eliminate lactose and gluten products from their diets. I encourage formal testing for celiac disease before making such drastic dietary changes.

In addition to a healthy diet, regular exercise and relaxation also can minimize the symptoms of IBS. Stress and fatigue are known to aggravate the condition and cause a wide range of gastrointestinal issues, even for those who do not suffer from IBS.

The chemical hormone serotonin plays an important role in a person’s mood, outlook and ability to manage stress. Interestingly, IBS is believed to be regulated through the same mechanisms. Because of this connection, antidepressants may be used to treat IBS symptoms, even without a clinical diagnosis of depression. 

An estimated one in five Americans has a digestive tract disorder. Diagnosing IBS requires thorough testing to rule out other life-threatening conditions. Speak with a gastroenterologist to confirm that your symptoms are in fact related to IBS and not something more serious.

Page Last Modified: 05/16/2012
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