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

One of the Little known Causes of Headaches

Posted August 15, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Your Headaches!

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

Can sleeping position be one of the causes of headaches?  

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

causes of headachesYour spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go to every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shortened to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical vertebrae tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and the Causes of  Headaches

sleep left side

The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.  For example, if you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick, your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping in car and desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk can also horizontal line sleepcause headaches. The pictures above show a strain on the neck when you fall asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.

 

sleeping on stomachSleeping on Your Back & Stomach

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.

 

Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

sleeping position causes of headachesAll of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief.

Take either a tennis ball or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your cervical vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

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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