Wednesday 31 August 2011

Food and irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has always seemed like a bit of an odd term to me. Odd because whilst it is used to describe various symptoms related to the bowel, 'irritable' to me implies angry and annoyed. Assuming that a similar meaning is denoted for IBS, various notions perhaps acquire new meaning. If for example, we assume that the gut is the second brain, and our first brain (the one in our head!) is the part of us that becomes irritable, angry or annoyed in response to whatever, then one can see some sense in its use when applied to the gut.

I digress. There is quite a lot of speculation as to what causes IBS and what are the most effective ways of reducing or managing symptoms. Outside of psychological factors such as stress, diet and food have been consistently related to some cases of IBS and the suggestion that sensitivity or intolerance might be tied into symptoms. I wrote a post about this not so long ago following the publication of quite an important piece of research where non-celiac gluten intolerance seemed to be linked to some cases of IBS. Removing gluten, or rather reintroducing gluten after having previously been excluded from the diet, seemed to be linked to the appearance of various IBS symptoms over placebo.

A recent article adds to the dietary connection. The paper by Carroccio and colleagues* suggested that a quarter of their participant group were found to have a food hypersensitivity to cow's milk protein and/or gluten wheat protein. Furthermore levels of tryptase, an enzyme normally released as part of an allergic-immune response, and fecal eosinophil cationic protein (ECP), related to inflammation, were higher in those participants with IBS and food hypersensitivity. This indicating some possibility of identifying those cases of IBS with a potential dietary effect involved.

Whilst complicated, dare I say spectral, conditions such as IBS are never going to be caused by one factor and one factor alone, there is some reliable evidence emerging implicating a dietary effect as being involved. Much like lifestyle and stress-reduction treatments and pharmacotherapy, such a dietary effect if linked, provides another possible intervention route to potentially alleviating symptoms, at least for a proportion of those affected.

* Carroccio A. et al. Fecal assays detect hypersensitivity to cows milk protein and gluten in adults with irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical Gastroenterology & Hepatology. August 2011.


  1. Interesting post, and study. FODMAPs seem to be another interesting avenue of research.

  2. Thanks Alex. I agree, from my very limited knowledge of FODMAPs, that such a diet low in said foods does seem to be yielding some success in some cases of IBS. Given the inclusion of lactose as part of FODMAPs it begs the question whether lactase deficiency might be a common factor in IBS?