Does The FODMAP Diet Reduce Gas and Bloating

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Diets, FODMAP Diet, Gas and Bloating

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

fodmap dietCan the FODMAP diet help reduce gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation? Everyone suffers from one or more of these symptoms, but nobody talks about them. For some they represent an annoyance. For others they can be incapacitating.

When the symptoms become frequent and start to affect quality of life, the medical community starts to give them names. When the symptoms occur at least 3 days/month for at least 3 months and there are no known diseases causing the symptoms, it is called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If the symptoms are also associated with inflammation, it is called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The principle forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

A Primer On IBS And IBD

IBS is fairly common. Between 10-15% of the US population has been diagnosed with IBS, but experts estimate that as much as 25% of the population experiences symptoms consistent with IBS.

It is also important to understand that IBS is a collection of symptoms, not a disease. The only difference between IBS and the gas, bloating, and diarrhea (or constipation) that many people experience on a fairly regular basis is the frequency and severity of symptoms – and that is an arbitrary distinction. Someone experiencing those symptoms an average of 2 days/month is not significantly different than someone experiencing those symptoms 3 times/month.

While severe IBS can be incapacitating, it does not appear to cause lasting damage to the intestine or predispose to other diseases. Finally, the causes of IBS are largely unknown. Stress, obesity, and food sensitivities may all play a role.

IBD is much less common (0.4% of the US population), but much more severe. It can cause permanent damage to the intestine and can predispose to several diseases, including cancer. For that reason, you should always consult with your physician if you have severe, chronic gastrointestinal issues.

Standard treatment of IBS and IBD has traditionally consisted of recommendations to:

  • Reduce weight if overweight
  • Increase exercise
  • Reduce stress
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol
  • Limit fatty foods
  • If diarrhea is the primary symptom, limit dairy products, fruits, and sweeteners such as sorbitol and xylitol.
  • If constipation is the primary symptom, increase dietary fiber

These interventions generally provide only partial relief of the symptoms, so medications are frequently prescribed to control the symptoms. Unfortunately, many of those medications have significant side effects.

Fortunately, research over the past decade suggests that there is a natural, holistic approach that can significantly reduce the symptoms associated with IBS and IBD, thus decreasing the reliance on medications to treat those diseases. It is something called the FODMAP diet. The FODMAP diet is rapidly becoming the standard of care for IBS and IBD, and the same diet also appears to significantly improve symptoms in people who merely experience gas, bloating, and diarrhea more frequently than they would like. More importantly, the principles behind the FODMAP diet can help almost everyone who experiences occasional gas, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation.

What Is The FODMAP Diet?

The FODMAP diet was devised over a decade ago by a group of scientists in Australia. Basically, they identified all of the kinds of foods that were known to cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation in susceptible people and put together a diet that was low in all of them.

FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:

  • F – fermentable carbohydrates
  • O – oligo-saccharides
  • D – di-saccharides
  • M – mono-saccharides
  • P – polyols

Of course, that statement comes under the “Aren’t you glad you asked?” category. It is meaningless to most people. A better way to understand this is to look at foods in the FODMAP category. They include:

  • gas and bloatingLactose, found in milk and milk products (especially for people who lack the enzyme lactase)
  • Fructose in high concentrations, found in foods like apples, pears, honey and agave syrup. (30-40% of individuals have problems absorbing fructose).
  • Fructans, found in foods like wheat, onions and garlic.
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides, found in foods like beans, lentils, and soybeans.
  • Polyols such as sorbitol and mannitol, found in fruits such as cherries, apricots, and apples, and as sweeteners added to many “sugar-free” foods.

These are all foods that are poorly digested or poorly absorbed, so they are fermented by intestinal bacteria. It is the fermentation of these foods by intestinal bacteria that causes the gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

Does The FODMAP Diet Work?

The evidence that the FODMAP diet is effective is pretty impressive. For example:

What Does This Mean For You?

On the surface, this seems to be a good news, bad news story.

good news bad newsThe good news is that the FODMAP diet is incredibly effective at decreasing frequent gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and constipation – and it really doesn’t matter whether you have been diagnosed with IBS or IBD, or you are just someone who suffers from those symptoms more frequently than you would like.

The bad news is that the FODMAP diet is very restrictive. You can appreciate that when you look at the list of high FODMAPs foods you need to avoid. That means:

  • The diet is very difficult to stick to long term. In the follow up study described above only 30% of the participants were able to stick with the diet for the full 16 months.
  • The diet restricts so many foods that you would really need the guidance of a registered dietitian to design a nutritionally adequate diet plan.

 

The reality, however,is that very few people actually need to restrict all the high FODMAP foods to enjoy significant relief from their symptoms. Clinically, most physicians test various FODMAPs in their IBS and IBD patients and only restrict the ones that cause symptoms. You can do exactly the same thing yourself. Start by reducing groups of high FODMAP foods on the list. Once you have identified which food groups cause your symptoms, you can test foods within that group one by one.

The most important news is that the FODMAP diet concept may help many people who struggle with occasional gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Let me give you one example:

  • Let’s suppose you have discovered that foods made from wheat flour cause you g.i. problems. You have concluded that you are gluten intolerant and carefully avoid foods containing gluten, but you still have occasional gas, bloating and diarrhea. You might be sensitive to the fructans in wheat, not the gluten. If so, a quick glance at the FODMAPs list suggests a number of fructan-containing foods you may be sensitive to that you would never have expected if you just focused on avoiding gluten. For example:
  • Vegetables: garlic, onions, asparagus, artichokes and snow peas might be causing you trouble.
  • Fruits: grapefruit, nectarines, plums and watermelon could be causing you problems.
  • Processed foods: Inulin, a naturally occurring fiber, found in Jerusalem artichokes, is primarily a fructan. Inulin and several other naturally occurring fructans are added to many processed foods to increase their fiber content. These foods might also be causing you trouble.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of us have probably identified one or two problem foods that we know give us gas. By using the FODMAPs list we may be able to identify other foods we should avoid.

 

The Bottom Line

  • By restricting all foods known to cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation in susceptible individuals, scientists and clinicians have created something called the FODMAP diet.
  • The FODMAP diet has proven to be very effective at reducing those symptoms in people with IBS or IBD, but it is also equally effective at eliminating symptoms in individuals who simply suffer from gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation more frequently than they would like.
  • The low FODMAP diet is also very restrictive, but the good news is that most people don’t need to eliminate all of the foods in the diet. You can systematically test and eliminate the individual foods that cause your symptoms.
  • Most importantly, the FODMAP concept can help us identify problem foods that we might have otherwise never suspected of giving us gas. You will find an example of how this concept works in the article above.
  • Gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation can also be caused by a number of serious diseases. For that reason, you should always consult with your physician if you have severe and chronic gastrointestinal issues.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Nancy Pcsolyar, MA, DA, LDN

    |

    Thank you, Dr. Chaney. for addressing the FODMAP test. Little is written about it but yet the information is essential for people suffering from bloating, gas, etc.

    As always, your unbiased critique of various studies is priceless information especially for those of us working in the medical field .

    Reply

  • Anson Kibby

    |

    What an excellent article. Thank you SO much.

    Reply

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Latest Article

How to Choose the Right Pillow

Posted April 17, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Wake Up Each Morning Pain Free

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

how to choose the right pillow without headachesThe way you sleep is often a key to discovering the cause of headaches and more. If you wake up with neck pain, a headache, or you suffer from ringing in your ears, dizziness, or ear pain, there is a good possibility that it may be caused by the way you are sleeping. Your pillow may be the culprit.  But if you need to know how to choose the right pillow for you, it’s easy.   It just takes a little “investigation.”

 

How to Choose the Right Pillow if You Sleep On Your Side

Your head, neck, and spine need to always stay in a nice straight line, just as it is when you are standing up, but that takes a little thought and understanding of the way you sleep.  So, get comfy in your bed and then notice how your head is resting.

how to choose the right pillow to sleep painfreeIf you sleep on your side, your pillow needs to be just the right size, so your head doesn’t point down toward the mattress (your pillow is too soft) or up to the ceiling (your pillow is too thick). Either of these positions will make the muscles on the side of your neck stay in the contracted position for hours and pull your vertebrae in that direction, especially when you try to turn over to your other side.

Your SCM Muscle May Cause Serious Problems

You also need to notice if you turn your head a bit, especially if you are turning into your pillow or turning your head up toward away from your pillow. In either of these two cases you will be causing your sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) to be held shortened for hours.

Your SCM originates on your collarbone and inserts into the bone behind your ear.  When it contracts you turn your head to the opposite side. However, if the muscle is tight (for example, when you’ve held your head turned toward one side for an extended period of time) and then you bring your head back so you are facing forward, the tight muscle will pull on the bone behind your ear and cause havoc.

The symptoms for a tight SCM are tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, loss of equilibrium, ear pain, headaches, pain in the eye and around the skull, pain at the top of the head, and even pain in the throat. Amazing! What’s even more amazing is that it’s rare that this muscle is considered when a medical professional is searching for the cause of your symptoms.

These are the things to know when considering how to choose the right pillow if you sleep on your side.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Back

how to choose the right pillow for sleeping on your backIf you sleep on your back, your head should be on the mattress (not propped up with a pillow) and you should have a tiny support (like a folded washcloth) under your neck.  Or, you can have a wedge pillow that starts at your mid-back and gently raises your entire trunk and head up while still allowing your head and back to be in a straight line.

It’s always a challenge for people who toss and turn during the night, sometimes on their side and sometimes on their back.  The best thing I’ve found for this situation is to have the pillow below shoulder level so when you turn on your side your shoulder will automatically slide to the edge of the pillow while still supporting your head properly, and when you turn onto your back, the pillow will start at shoulder level so your head and neck are supported, but your head is being pushed in a way that causes your chin to move down to your chest.

hip pain causes and treatment pain freeIt’s tricky, but I can personally attest to the fact that it will work.  I can always tell when I’ve had my head tilted (I toss and turn during the night) because I will wake with a headache. When that happens I’m grateful that I know how to self-treat the muscles of my neck and shoulders so the headache is eliminated quickly.  If you already have Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living,  you can self-treat all your neck and shoulder muscles to release the tension.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Stomach

If you sleep on your stomach, this is the one position that is so bad that it behooves you to force yourself to change your position. Your head is turned to the side and held still for hours, putting a severe strain on all your cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae. Not only will this cause headaches, tinnitus, and a list of other pains, but it can cause problems down your entire spine. It can also impinge on the nerves that pass through the vertebrae on their way to your organs.

If you do sleep that way, let me know and I’ll give you some suggestions that work to change your habit of sleeping. It takes time and energy, but the results are worth the effort.

In every case, the way you sleep may cause neck pain that won’t go away until the pillow situation is resolved.

Now you should know how to choose the right pillow for the way you sleep.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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