Can My Diet Be Causing IBD?

Inflammatory bowel disease, often confused with irritable bowel syndrome, encompasses a wide range of disorders that interfere with motility of substances through the entire digestive tract. A number of triggers can irritate the small intestine and colon, causing sensitivity to a number of stimuli.

Little scientific evidence is available today pointing to specific foods that contribute to the development of irritable bowel disease. So, what to do?

Can Diet be Causing Your IBD Symptoms?

A number of issues can affect digestive function including stress, hormones, drugs, and sometimes, diet. What does stress have to do with the digestive system? More than you might think. The brain controls every system in the body, including the digestive system.

Anxiety, stress, or strong emotions – acute or chronically – can affect digestion. The most common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease include abdominal pain or cramping, rctal bleeding and bouts of diarrhea.

Everyone responds differently to different stimulus. A high-fat or high-caloric intake is often blamed for contributing to symptoms of IBD for some. Others may be sensitive to grains or dairy products, while others are sensitive to fruits or beverages that contain caffeine.

To date, researchers are still unsure about specific causes or triggers to inflammatory bowel disease but theorize that a virus or bacterium may be involved. Another theory is that genetics plays a role, and that vulnerable individuals may experience heightened sensitivity of the bowel lining that ends up triggering an inflammatory reaction.

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are considered forms of inflammatory bowel disease, are chronic in nature, and trigger inflammation or ulceration of either the small intestine (Crohn’s) or large intestine (Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis).

IBD Challenging to Diagnose

Scientific evidence has yet to determine exactly what triggers inflammatory bowel disease because situations, diets, and lifestyle are so different among many patients. Not only that, but it can be challenging to differentiate between irritable bowel disease, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or other conditions that contribute to changes in daily bowel habits, prompt bouts of abdominal pain, and cause constipation or diarrhea – sometimes both.

Inflammatory bowel disease is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), typically defined as “spastic” or “irritable” colon. Both may cause similar symptoms, though IBS is defined as a condition that affects the function of the intestines, while IBD is inflammatory in nature, prompted by abnormal responses of the body’s immune system.

In the past, IBD was primarily considered to be stress-related, even psychosomatic. Today, the abnormality has been acknowledged to be caused by underlying physiologic issues. The American Gastrointestinal Association defines irritable bowel syndrome as consisting of a number of recurrent, chronic symptoms that include:

  • Abdominal pain, sometimes sharp
  • Bloating or distention
  • Erratic bowel habits that can’t be explained by any biochemical or structural abnormality

Today it is perceived that IBS is caused by hypersensitivity, resulting from disturbances in nervous system response and control of the gastrointestinal tract. Hypersensitivity of the intestinal lining can interrupt normal movement (peristalsis) of waste in the colon.

Relief for IBD

While diet has not been directly linked as a distinctive cause for IBD, changes in diet can help to relieve symptoms. For example,

  • Decreasing amount of food consumed at one sitting. Eating five or six times a day and giving the body the chance to process smaller amounts of food may be easier on the digestive system than digesting two or three large meals.

Treatment suggestions will depend on lifestyle and symptoms. For example, an individual who experiences abdominal bloating or distention as well as flatulence (gas) may be advised to avoid difficult-to-digest foods such as legumes, beans, and cabbage.  Others with a sensitivity to citrus fruits may be advised to eat only in small amounts.

For others, a low-fat diet proves beneficial.

Increased intake of fiber may help some though irritate others, increasing the potential for bloating and flatulence.

Comorbidity Factors and Risks Associated with IBD

Regularly scheduled visits with your physician is recommended for anyone diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, as the risk of developing colon cancer increases among individuals dealing with the condition over time.

A recent study also determined that an individual diagnosed with IBD may have an increased risk of developing heart disease. Comorbidity factors and increased risks are associated with high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, and lifestyle, including smoking. The study claims that individuals diagnosed with IBD have a 23% higher risk of experiencing a heart attack than those who don’t have IBD.

Anyone experiencing erratic bowel habits, chronic constipation, diarrhea, or chronic abdominal pain should schedule a visit with a physician to determine appropriate treatment options for relief, as well as to reduce risk of additional complications to health and wellness.