IBS, IBD and Diet – Part I

Nov 17th
White Bread
Over 1 out of every 5 Americans suffers from either IBS or IBD – digestive conditions that can lead to gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and other symptoms. While neither condition is caused by diet, your food choices can significantly impact symptoms and overall well-being. An overview of IBS and IBD is provided below, followed by a discussion of the role of diet in managing these conditions.

What is IBS?

IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is the term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting the large intestine (colon). Symptoms may include abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. Unlike IBD (described below), IBS is considered a functional disorder rather than a disease. This means that while the colon is not functioning as it should, it is not damaged or diseased. IBS is also much more common than IBD, affecting 1 out of every 5 Americans. The cause of IBS is unknown. While there is no “cure” for IBS, a number of medications and lifestyle changes have been shown to help improve symptoms. A doctor might prescribe laxatives to treat constipation, antispasmodics to reduce abdominal pain, or antidepressants to treat other symptoms. In many cases, lifestyle changes such as stress relief techniques and diet modifications (discussed below) can reduce or eliminate the need for medications.

What is IBD?
IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, describes a group of disorders in which the small and/or large intestines become inflamed. Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease are the most common types of IBD. Ulcerative Colitis causes inflammation of the inner lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Crohn’s Disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, but most often manifests as swelling deep in the lining of the ilium (the lower part of the small intestine). IBD affects about 1 out of every 200 people in the United States.

Although the exact cause of IBD is unknown, the most likely culprit is an immune reaction the body has against its own intestinal tissue. There is currently no medical cure for IBD, but several types of treatment are available to help control or alleviate symptoms. The major aim of any type of IBD treatment is reducing the intestinal inflammation that causes symptoms. There are several major classifications of medications used to treat IBD, including corticosteroids, antibiotics, and immunomodulators, among others. While these medications have helped many people attain and/or maintain remission from disease symptoms, they can also have significant side-effects. Thus, the main focus of this post is on lifestyle changes (namely diet) for managing symptoms and improving overall well-being.

The Role of Diet

While IBS and IBD are not caused by diet, different foods can aggravate symptoms or promote healing. A healthy, balanced diet is especially important for people with these conditions, as nutrient absorption and immune system functioning may be compromised. The six most important diet-related considerations for IBS and IBD are inflammation, triggers, fiber, macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, and vitamins and minerals.

: Some foods cause inflammation in the body, some have anti-inflammatory effects, and others are relatively neutral. Avoiding inflammatory foods can help minimize the symptoms of IBS and IBD. Some of the more common inflammatory foods (and worst offenders) include:

  • Beef, pork and organ meats
  • Eggs (egg yolks in particular)
  • Dairy products (especially full-fat milk and cheese)
  • Trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils
  • Refined sugars and carbohydrates (white sugar, white pasta, white bread, etc.)
  • Common allergens, including casein and gluten
  • Alcohol
  • Soda
Other foods can actually decrease inflammation in the body. A diet emphasizing anti-inflammatory foods is key to health and wellness for anyone, but especially for those of us with IBS or IBD. Some of the anti-inflammatory foods you may want to incorporate into your diet include:

  • Fresh fruit – especially blueberries and other berries
  • Fresh vegetables – especially broccoli and sweet potatoes
  • Healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, walnuts and other nuts and seeds
  • Whole soy foods, such as tofu, tempeh and edamame
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa
  • Green and white tea
See IBS, IBD and Diet Part II and Part III for a discussion of five other important diet-related considerations, including triggers, fiber, macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, and vitamins and minerals.