Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is thought to affect up to 20 percent of children at some point in their school years. Symptoms of IBS including abdominal pain and alternating diarrhoea and constipation, are the second cause of absenteeism at school (after the common cold).
Your child may complain of ‘bad tummy aches’, clutch her stomach, cry in agony and be worried about going to school in case she doesn’t make it to the bathroom in time.
My years working in an Allergy and Pain Clinic, where IBS was one of the most common complaints I treated, showed me how negatively it could impact the quality of a child’s life.
I myself have also had a sensitive gut in the past, and so I keep a close eye on what I eat (following a gluten free diet) and have a wealth of experience on the impact certain foods have on the digestive system.
What causes IBS?
IBS has previously been explained as having no identifiable cause and triggered by stress. However research is now revealing that a dietary approach known as the Low FODMAP Diet demonstrates success in approximately 75% of IBS patients –
that’s pretty phenomenal!
Dietician Susan Shepherd developed the low FODMAP diet in 1999 as a treatment for IBS, and over the last few years it has gained significant attention amongst both patients and researchers for its effectiveness, and its methods are now filtering into NHS practice (read more on what the NHS has to say here).
What are FODMAPs?
The acronym FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates that are incompletely absorbed in the gut and become fermented by gut bacteria.
The fermentation caused by these undigested sugars is the cause of common IBS symptoms including gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhoea.
There are numerous commonly eaten foods that are high in FODMAPs including lactose from diary, fructose from certain fruits, all sweeteners, fructans from some vegetables and gluten from wheat, rye and barley.
What causes FODMAP intolerance?
How FODMAP food intolerance came about and why is its prevalence growing is an interesting question? The main explanation emerging from the research is that FODMAP foods react in people with disordered bowel flora.
As we know, good flora in the gut have an important role in the health of the digestive and immune system, and antibiotics, food intolerances, certain intestinal infections as well as chronic stress may have a negative impact on this delicate balance of gut microbiology.
This disturbance encourages the presence of pathogenic bacteria which causes this excessive fermentation of the sugars in FODMAP foods leading to the symptoms of IBS.
So, whilst avoiding FODMAP foods may provide relief from symptoms..
….it’s not the complete answer.
It’s important to determine where this imbalance of gut flora began.
In myself know that I had undiagnosed food intolerances as a child, I also suffered from chronic ear infections which were repeatedly treated with antibiotics and I ate a typical Western diet high in refined flour, milk and sugar; toast, cereal, sandwiches, biscuits, cakes and pasta.
At 21 years old, I contracted Giardia (a worm) on holiday in India. Treatment consisted of a strong course of the antibiotic Metronidazole.
At this point my digestion just had enough.
The results were numerous food intolerances that left me exhausted from malnutrition whilst I struggled to determine what was safe for me to eat.
I wish I’d known then what I know now, as the experience left me suffering from IBS symptoms for several years until I discovered how to heal my gut through specific foods and probiotics.
The whole experience led me to train as a Nutritional Therapist – there is a silver lining.
If you’re reading this, then perhaps you or your child are suffering from IBS and you’re not sure what to do.
You may or may not see a pattern in the foods that you eat.
You may have been to the doctors and been told that your symptoms could be caused by stress but have a hunch that there’s more to it than that.
Whatever the reason, if you’re thinking of exploring this type of diet to improve you or your child’s IBS symptoms, I suggest you visit a registered Dietician or Nutritional Therapist.
That way you can be given a range of alternative foods to ensure that you are still getting a balanced diet.
Giving probiotics to replace the good bacteria destroyed by antibiotics are also essential.
Are you or your child an IBS sufferer?
Have you tried the low FODMAP approach to IBS treatment? I’d love to hear your story or any comments below.