Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn’t fun. It causes abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea. How common is IBS? All too common. If you suffer from it, you’re not alone. An estimated 10% of people in the world and up to 15% of people in the United States have IBS.1,2 That means out of every ten people you meet, one or more of them is likely to have IBS. In fact, it’s the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the Western world.1 Of all the people suffering from IBS, 70% are women.
So why do so many people have irritable bowel syndrome? The culprit is likely our modern lifestyle. In this blog post, we reveal four modern-day threats that aren’t a friend to your intestinal tract. Plus, you’ll discover how to keep your digestion healthy even in the face of these threats.
Too Many Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and Pizzas
Compared to our ancestors, we eat a lot more refined carbs like white pasta and bread. Modern humans also chow down on a lot of sugary foods and drinks.
Too much sugar and too many refined carbs can contribute to what’s known as leaky gut. Your intestinal lining—known as the gut barrier—is like a gate that keeps harmful agents from getting out into your circulation while allowing helpful substances like nutrients to reach tissues in your body. When a person develops leaky gut, those harmful substances can leave the intestines and wreak havoc throughout the body. Fructose (fruit sugar)—when you drink it in the form of juices rather than eating it with fiber in fruit—has the same effect as table sugar. 3 Leaky gut is linked to GI problems like IBS.3
The problem isn’t always just carbs. Some people with IBS also have a hard time with fried and fatty foods, too.4
It’s best not to eat too many desserts or foods made from white flour—or fried and fatty treats. But that’s not always easy. That’s why I founded the Confidence Company. That way when you do cheat from time to time, you can support your intestinal health with digestive enzymes that help digest carbs and fat. Marshmallow root also may support the healing of the gut lining.5 Teaming up digestive enzymes with marshmallow root can keep your intestinal lining healthy.
Diet and IBS
What makes IBS worse? Food intolerances are a common reason. The hybridization of foods or including genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into our food supply may make it more likely you’ll react to foods that you’re eating compared to your ancestors. Unlike food allergies, food intolerances and sensitivities sneak up on you. It might be hours or even days after you eat an offending food before you feel any symptoms such as bloating, nausea, fatigue, and/or sinus and throat problems.
Many people find their IBS symptoms get worse when they eat foods like wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, and cabbage. A study of kids with IBS found that food intolerances were common and linked to IBS severity.6 Studies came to the same conclusion in adults with IBS.4,7 IBS trigger foods in adults included dairy products, beans/lentils, apples, flour, plums, and salami.
Foods to Avoid with IBS
These are foods that people commonly react to when they have IBS. However, It’s best to get a food intolerance test to see exactly which foods you react to. A functional medicine doctor can order one of these tests.
• Dairy products
• Citrus fruits
• Foods with fructose or lactose
More Stressed Out Equals More IBS
Another reason IBS is so common? Modern society is fast-paced and stressful. Stress might not be the root cause of IBS. But it definitely makes the symptoms worse.9 10 What’s more, long-term stress and being in a sad mood can lead to worse outcomes in people who have IBS.11
Taking time to chill out by meditating, exercising, or doing anything that brings you joy can help relieve stress that causes IBS flare ups.
We’re Messing Up Our Gut Bacteria
The tiny microorganisms—both good and bad—that live in our intestines are known as the gut microbiota. Keeping the microbiota healthy and balanced is important for gut health. But these little inhabitants of our intestines are faced with many threats. First, there are antibiotics, which kill off microbiota. This can throw off the balance in favor of the bad bacteria in the intestines. We’re prescribed antibiotics when we’re ill. But some farm animals are fed antibiotics. So unless we eat organic we’re also exposed to antibiotics when we have a good steak meal, a hamburger, or even a glass of milk. Mental stress and poor diet can also change the gut microbiota.
We know that genetics, stress, diet, and early life experiences are linked to IBS. Imbalances in the gut microbiota may be the reason why.14 That’s because during each of those factors, the gut microbes undergo a change.14 What’s more, gut microbiota imbalances are linked to IBS abdominal pain.14 Changes in the gut microbiota are also linked to the constipation and diarrhea that occur in IBS.14
The gut microbiota changes that occur in people with IBS impact what’s known as the gut-brain axis.1 That’s what scientists call the direct link between your gut and your brain. When the gut-brain-axis isn’t working properly, it can worsen irritable bowel syndrome.1
Taking a good probiotic supplement can keep the gut microbiota balanced and healthy. Reducing stress and eating organic meat and dairy to avoid antibiotic exposure are two other ways to keep the little guys in your gut healthy.
The Bottom Line on IBS
IBS is way too common. What we eat, how we feel (stressed or at peace), and supporting our gut microbiota can keep the symptoms at bay. And when in doubt, reach for your Confidence digestive enzymes to help you get back control.
- Raskov H, Burcharth J, Pommergaard HC, Rosenberg J. Irritable bowel syndrome, the microbiota and the gut-brain axis. Gut Microbes. 2016;7(5):365-383.
- Hungin AP, Chang L, Locke GR, Dennis EH, Barghout V. Irritable bowel syndrome in the United States: prevalence, symptom patterns and impact. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2005;21(11):1365-1375.
- Bischoff SC, Kaden-Volynets V, Filipe Rosa L, Guseva D, Seethaler B. Regulation of the gut barrier by carbohydrates from diet - Underlying mechanisms and possible clinical implications. Int J Med Microbiol. 2021;311(4):151499.
- Böhn L, Störsrud S, Törnblom H, Bengtsson U, Simrén M. Self-reported food-related gastrointestinal symptoms in IBS are common and associated with more severe symptoms and reduced quality of life. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(5):634-641.
- Deters A, Zippel J, Hellenbrand N, Pappai D, Possemeyer C, Hensel A. Aqueous extracts and polysaccharides from Marshmallow roots (Althea officinalis L.): cellular internalisation and stimulation of cell physiology of human epithelial cells in vitro. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010;127(1):62-69.
- Chumpitazi BP, Weidler EM, Lu DY, Tsai CM, Shulman RJ. Self-Perceived Food Intolerances Are Common and Associated with Clinical Severity in Childhood Irritable Bowel Syndrome. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(9):1458-1464.
- Monsbakken KW, Vandvik PO, Farup PG. Perceived food intolerance in subjects with irritable bowel syndrome-- etiology, prevalence and consequences. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006;60(5):667-672.
- Wilder-Smith CH, Materna A, Wermelinger C, Schuler J. Fructose and lactose intolerance and malabsorption testing: the relationship with symptoms in functional gastrointestinal disorders. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013;37(11):1074-1083.
- Evans S, Seidman LC, Lung K, Sternlieb B, Zeltzer LK. Yoga for Teens With Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Results From a Mixed-Methods Pilot Study. Holist Nurs Pract. 2018;32(5):253-260.
- Whitehead WE, Crowell MD, Robinson JC, Heller BR, Schuster MM. Effects of stressful life events on bowel symptoms: subjects with irritable bowel syndrome compared with subjects without bowel dysfunction. Gut. 1992;33(6):825-830.
- Creed F, Ratcliffe J, Fernandes L, et al. Outcome in severe irritable bowel syndrome with and without accompanying depressive, panic and neurasthenic disorders. Br J Psychiatry. 2005;186:507-515.
- O'Mahony SM, Marchesi JR, Scully P, et al. Early life stress alters behavior, immunity, and microbiota in rats: implications for irritable bowel syndrome and psychiatric illnesses. Biol Psychiatry. 2009;65(3):263-267.
- Wong HLX, Qin HY, Tsang SW, et al. Early life stress disrupts intestinal homeostasis via NGF-TrkA signaling. Nat Commun. 2019;10(1):1745.
- Bhattarai Y, Muniz Pedrogo DA, Kashyap PC. Irritable bowel syndrome: a gut microbiota-related disorder? Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2017;312(1):G52-g62.