If you have IBS, here’s how changes to the bacteria in your gut may affect symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic health condition that affects your gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach and intestines. This common ailment can lead to a host of uncomfortable symptoms, include abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating and diarrhea or constipation. Due to the fact that symptoms are related to your digestive tract, it may come as no surprise that what’s going on inside your gut—called your gut microbiome—may affect symptoms of the condition.
What is your gut microbiome?
Your gut microbiome or microbiota refers to the mix of bacteria and other microorganisms that live inside your digestive tract. These microorganisms not only affect digestion, but also metabolism, immune function, and other aspects of your health. Every person has a completely unique mix of microorganisms—trillions of them—and for the most part, they coexist without any issue.
When does your gut microbiome cause problems?
When the balance of organisms that coexist in your gut is disturbed, you may experience a number of health issues. An abnormal balance of gut bacteria has been linked to gastrointestinal issues such as ulcerative colitis, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease. Recent research suggests that it may also trigger symptoms of IBS. However, it is not known if this imbalance contributes to the development of IBS or if it develops in people who already have the condition. More research about the cause and effect relationship of gut bacteria and IBS still needs to be done.
What affects your gut microbiome?
There are many things that can affect the delicate mix of microorganisms in your gut. Your diet plays a major role in gut health. So do the medications you take. For example, taking certain antibiotics may kill off good bacteria, reducing the diversity of bacteria in your gut and disrupting the ecosystem. Other factors, such as genetics, underlying health issues, and even the environment may also affect gut health.
How can you improve your gut health?
The more diverse your gut bacteria, the better. Therefore, one of the best ways to improve gut health is to eat a wide variety of fresh, healthy foods. This includes lots of plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes and whole grains. The fiber in these foods stimulates the growth of gut bacteria. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, kefir and tempeh, have also been shown to improve gut health because they are rich in lactobacilli, a beneficial type of bacteria.
Can changing your diet prevent IBS?
Although diet is one of the most common ways that people manage IBS symptoms, there’s not enough research to show it will prevent the condition from occurring. Some of the most common dietary changes people with IBS make include eating more fiber, avoiding gluten or following a low FODMAP diet (reducing foods that contain certain carbohydrates that are hard to digest). Different people respond differently to different dietary changes, so what works for someone else may not work for you. You may need to change what you eat for a few weeks before seeing if the changes produce any difference in symptoms.
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Date Last Reviewed: February 16, 2023
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD