IBS Myth Busting
Let’s Debunk those IBS myths and set the facts straight!
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a widely recognised gut disorder that affects approximately 15 – 30% of New Zealanders and Australians. Despite its prevalence, there is still so much confusion when it comes to IBS, with the internet and social media channels full of misinformation. In this blog post, I’ll debunk common myths surrounding IBS and shed light on the real facts about this gut condition.
Myth: The Internal Shower will reduce bloating and cleanse the gut.
By now, most of you have probably seen the viral Tik Tok craze claiming gut health benefits with the “internal shower”. Tik Tok health enthusiasts are claiming this drink will “reduce bloating” and “cleanse your gut”. Essentially, this gooey concoction makes you poop.
Why does the internal shower work?
- Water increases your fluids for the day and fluid is essential for regulating your bowel motions.
- Chia seeds provide a high dose of fibre to soften and regulate bowel motions. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provides ~10g of fibre which is about one third of an individual’s daily recommended fibre.
- Lemon juice doesn’t actually add anything special, except for a bit of vitamin C and flavour.
So, should we all be trying the internal shower to reduce bloating and evacuate our bowels? Firstly, I can think of tastier ways to eat chia seeds such as adding them to smoothies, porridge or yoghurt. It’s also important to include other fibrous foods in your diet such as nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables and wholegrains like brown rice or quinoa. Secondly, two tablespoons of fibre all at once may be too much for some people to handle and may cause more issues such as abdominal pain, discomfort, constipation or diarrhoea. Thirdly, fluid is essential! If you increase your fibre but forget about the fluid, you could worsen constipation. Aim for at least 1.5 – 2 litres of fluid spread across the day.
Myth: Gut health shots will help my IBS
There is no scientific evidence to support the use of gut health shots in IBS and in many cases, they may actually worsen IBS.
It is important to understand what is in the gut health shots as ingredients will differ largely between them. Many of them contain high doses of prebiotics or FODMAPs such as celery, beetroot, apple juice or other fibres. For someone without IBS, these prebiotics can be beneficial for the healthy gut bacteria. However, for someone with IBS, these prebiotics are likely to increase bloating, gut pain and worsen bowel motions.
More often than not, gut health shots or juices are just another expensive gimmick to stay away from.
Myth: I should follow a low inflammatory diet for my IBS
When we think of a low inflammatory diet this includes foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, healthy fats such as olive oil and oily fish, and wholegrains such as oats, brown rice and quinoa. These are foods that we should be consuming as part of a healthy diet and are essential for health in general.
IBS is a functional gut disorder which means the gut is not functioning as it “normally” should, but there is no structural damage or inflammation caused. As inflammation is not implicated in IBS, a low inflammatory diet will not directly improve IBS symptoms. Some people may notice an improvement in their IBS when they cut out processed foods and eat more whole foods. This is often because high fat foods such as bakery items, takeaways, chips and ice-cream can irritate the gut and worsen IBS symptoms. Nothing to do with inflammation.
On the other hand, for those suffering from endometriosis related IBS, there is good evidence to support a low inflammatory diet as endometriosis is an inflammatory condition.
Myth: Sugar is bad for gut health
There are so many different types of sugars, so it is important to understand what “sugar” you are referring to.
FODMAPs are types of fermentable sugars naturally found in foods that are not absorbed in the gut. FODMAPs are not “bad” for gut health, but for people with IBS they can cause bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort and funny bowel motions. About 75% of people with IBS find a low FODMAP diet reduces their IBS symptoms. However, a low FODMAP diet is not to be followed long-term, as it restricts our intake of essential prebiotics for our gut bacteria.
If we are talking about regular table sugar or sugary foods, these foods are not necessarily “bad” for gut health but, like anything, too many of these foods can have implications for our general health and wellbeing. In general, the occasional sweet treat will not impact negatively on your gut health.
Myth: If you cut a food out completely (e.g. garlic), that actually makes you less tolerant to it over time.
We know that restricting FODMAPs long term can negatively impact the microbiome which can actually worsen gut symptoms and make you more sensitive to FODMAP containing foods over time. This is why a low FODMAP diet should not be followed long-term.
If you have reintroduced all other FODMAPs but are only excluding a few foods (e.g. garlic, onion and wheat) it’s not likely that you will become less tolerant to them.
Lactose is the exception. Lactose intolerance is usually short lived and often occurs after there has been damage done to the gut. Often lactose intolerance improves over time once the gut has healed, so we recommend testing again in 3-6 months time. If you strictly exclude all lactose, over a long period of time you can become more lactose intolerant as the production of lactase enzymes is reduced. So it is important to include some lactose in your diet.
We also know that the gut microbiome is forever changing, so food we may not tolerate now, we may actually tolerate in the future and vice versa. The best way to improve your tolerance to food is to look after your healthy gut bacteria with a diverse diet, pre- and probiotics, stress management, regular movement and plenty of fluid.
Myth: A carnivore diet is great for IBS
Short term a carnivore diet does actually reduce IBS symptoms. This is because by eliminating all plant-based foods and only eating meat, you are essentially cutting out ALL FODMAPs. This will reduce bloating and gut pain.
Long term, however, a carnivore diet can be incredibly detrimental to gut health. With no plant based foods, a carnivore diet lacks fibre which is likely to cause constipation and other health issues. It also lacks prebiotics fibres which are essential for keeping our healthy gut bacteria alive. Long-term this is likely to have negative impacts on the gut microbiome and could worsen IBS symptoms. A carnivore diet is also likely to have detrimental impacts on cholesterol levels, cardiovascular health, mental health, immune functioning and even increase risks of serious illnesses such as colon cancer. Overall, we do not recommend anyone follow a carnivore diet.
Published: 14th September 2023
Author: Bianca Berton-Scarlet Monash FODMAP trained Dietitian