Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic, episodic intestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits. It affects one in seven Americans, although most go undiagnosed. IBS can have a substantial impact on well-being and health, but doctors underestimate the impact the disease can have, particularly the pain and discomfort.

IBS is thought to be caused by a hypersensitivity of the lining of the colon. If you suffer from chronic irritable bowel–type symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel habits, ask your doctor about getting a formal evaluation for celiac disease. If you have celiac, then go on a strict gluten-free diet. If you do not have the disease, the current recommendation is to first try a healthier diet including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, while avoiding processed foods. The reason people may feel better on a gluten-free diet—and therefore conclude they have a problem with gluten—is because they’ve stopped eating so much fast food and other processed junk. If you eat a deep-fried Twinkie and your stomach aches, it may not be the gluten.

If a more healthful diet doesn’t help, try to rule out other causes of chronic gastrointestinal distress. Researchers found that about one-third of people who avoid wheat and/or gluten don’t appear to have gluten sensitivity but, instead, have other conditions, like an overgrowth of bacteria in their small intestines, fructose- or lactose-intolerance, or a neuromuscular disorder like gastroparesis or pelvic floor dysfunction. Only after each of these is ruled out do I suggest people suffering from chronic, suspicious symptoms try a gluten-free diet.

A number of plant foods, such as peppermint oil, kiwi, ginger, cayenne pepper, have been found effective in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.

For substantiation of any statements of fact from the peer-reviewed medical literature, please see the associated videos below.

Image Credit: The Clear Communication People / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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