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How FODMAPs Can Effect Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Are you one of the millions with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? If so, join the growing ranks of digestive disorders in the United States and worldwide. It’s truly a big problem!

Kevin Johnson of The FODMAP Central wrote a guest post for you about FODMAPs and IBS. While FODMAPs isn’t a cure for IBS, it does help some people calm the very uncomfortable symptoms that can accompany IBS.
Most people with IBS are highly motivated to manage their symptoms. But don’t stop there! You’ll also need to get the help of a talented physician or qualified practitioner to help you identify underlying reasons for IBS.

Written by Kevin Johnson

According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States alone. That is 10 to 15% of the entire USA population! With such a large group of people affected, it is important to understand possible causes for IBS. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there has been a lot of research giving us additional understanding of how your digestive system is working and likely causes of IBS.

Digestion 101

We can’t dive into what causes IBS without a basic understanding of your digestive system. The first step is also the part you’re most familiar with: putting food in your mouth. When you are eating your mouth is developing saliva to begin breaking down the food into nutrients your body can use. As you chew, more saliva is created. This is why it is often encouraged to eat slowly and chew for a good amount of time before swallowing your food. Once you swallow the food, it heads down your esophagus and into your stomach.

The biggest change to your food happens in your stomach.

Your stomach creates gastric acid which breaks down the food to a type of paste that your small intestine can handle. The gastric acid actually contains hydrochloric acid and the stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks – otherwise the stomach would digest itself! Then we move on to the small intestine.

Your intestines are the size of a tennis court

Calling the small intestine “small” is a bit of a misnomer. While it does have a small circumference, the small intestine actually has a surface area of about 200 meters (About the size of a tennis court)! In the small intestine, villi line the walls and pull out nutrients into your blood stream. Anything that isn’t absorbed is then passed to your large intestine where it is prepared as waste before being passed to your colon.

How FODMAPs Effect IBS

You may have already seen where FODMAPs can cause a problem. If you aren’t able to absorb FODMAPs they will pass to your large intestine just like any other nutrient that you cannot absorb. While in the large intestine, bacteria will ferment the leftover FODMAPs. The problem is that this fermentation process can cause additional gas, painful cramping, and diarrhea. While FODMAPs themselves do not actually cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), they can certainly make the symptoms worse.


Why can’t some people absorb enough FODMAPs to prevent this painful process?

The first answer is that FODMAP absorption can vary between ethnic and dietary groups. Furthermore, the levels of absorption for specific types of FODMAPs (Ex: fructose, lactose, fructans) can vary between individuals. That’s why you will need to find IBS trigger foods for yourself instead of there being a one size fits all solution.

After that it gets a bit more complicated. There are a few explanations for FODMAP malabsorption that have been studied in clinical trials.

Enter Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

It seems that Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) contributes to both IBS and a FODMAP intolerance. However, your gut is a complicated place and lots of different factors effect how it absorbs foods. Another explanation is that physical or emotional stress can change the bacteria in your gut to the point that you develop a FODMAP intolerance. That is likely why stress, IBS, and FODMAP intolerance are so commonly grouped together. It is also possible for an individual to not have the enzymes necessary to break down FODMAPs.

IBS Treatment

As mentioned, FODMAPs may be the culprits making your IBS symptoms worse. So the logical next step is to remove FODMAPs from your diet. That’s exactly what the low FODMAP diet recommends. This study even shows that 85% of people who followed a low FODMAP diet had reduced IBS symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, and flatulence. There are lots of great resources out there for following a FODMAP diet. A combination of managing your diet and controlling your stress levels can do wonders if you are suffering from IBS.

Typically it is recommended to follow a FODMAP diet for 6 – 8 weeks while consulting with a dietitian. Eventually many people are able to return to a normal diet while only avoiding particular IBS trigger foods that they were able to discover by following the diet. Even if the specifics of what causes IBS are debated amongst scientists, one thing that is not debated is that you can in fact get better and return to a normal life.

Related posts:

Article: Is healthy food causing your digestion problems?

Podcast: How a low FODMAPs diet can improve your digestion and IBS

Bio: Kevin Johnson runs The Fodmap Central which provides valuable resources and delicious recipes to people following a low FODMAP diet. He began the website after watching a family member suffer through IBS and realizing there weren’t enough resources out there for such an important.

Now I want to hear from you: 

  1. Have you found FODMAPS to be helpful?
  2. What methods for addressing IBS have you used, and would you recommend them

Please comment below (you can comment anonymously)!

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Frances, The acronym or word “FODMAP” is used so many times but I don’t know what that means.

    • Kevin

      Author of this article, here!

      You’re right, “FODMAP” is thrown around a lot. As you suggested, it is actually an acronym for types of carbohydrates that can irritate your system.

      Some people have no problem absorbing these carbohydrates, FODMAPS, and others do. If you have digestive problems such as IBS then a FODMAP elimination diet could be helpful.

      Hope that helps!

    • Frances Arnold

      Hi Laura, such a valid point! FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates that can increase bloating and irritable bowel symptoms in some. Check out this article I wrote to better understand where they are found, and the symptoms involved. =)

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