Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects about 25-35 million people in the United States. It can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and other potential symptoms on a regular basis. That said, ongoing research continues to inform health experts about the realities of this condition.
It can be difficult to distinguish the facts from the myths regarding IBS, though. If you believe one or more things that are actually false, you cheat yourself out of getting proper treatment for the condition. That’s why this article aims to tell the truths about common IBS myths.
Myth 1: Leaky Gut Causes IBS
The gut has a protective barrier that prevents harmful substances from entering. Leaky gut syndrome occurs when that barrier is somewhat broken down. Although some studies indicate a connection between leaky gut syndrome and IBS, there is no conclusion on whether or not it is a direct cause. Leaky gut syndrome is hypothetical at this point because it is not recognized as a medical diagnosis. That means that treatments for leaky gut may not work on IBS symptoms. In fact, experts think that leaky gut syndrome is a potential side effect of common inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Myth 2: IBD And IBS Are The Same
Not only are they not the same, but they are also not interchangeable. IBS and IBD are two distinct conditions and although they can have similar symptoms, they differ in how they begin and how doctors treat them. IBS is a function gastrointestinal (GI) condition, meaning that symptoms occur because of the way the GI tract functions. IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, triggers chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. It is more serious and can lead to cuts in the gut lining and ulcers.
Myth 3: IBS Isn’t A Big Deal
IBS can affect overall quality of life, as symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, changes in bowel habits, and more. That is why this condition can induce physical discomfort, psychological distress, and social isolation. You also have to understand IBS has an unpredictability factor, in that flares can worsen symptoms and feelings of anxiety. A 2023 study found that IBS was associated with an increase in health care costs, including visits to hospitals and mental health clinics.
Myth 4: IBS Is All In Your Head
It is highly inaccurate to say that IBS is all in your head. Although the psychological distress can worsen symptoms, IBS is a real GI disorder characterized by bloating, altered bowel habits, and abdominal pain. Many biological factors can contribute to IBS, including changes in gut bacteria, changes in gut mobility, visceral hypersensitivity, and genetics. Like many other conditions, though, mental health plays a role in IBS. Anxiety can worsen symptoms and a strong social support system and great mental health can ease some IBS symptoms.
Myth 5: Fiber Cures IBS
There is no current cure for IBS and the condition’s symptoms can vary from person to person. Treatment, for this reason, is signature to each person’s needs. Fiber can help people with IBS manage symptoms, though. People with IBS-D may benefit from consuming more soluble fiber, which works to absorb water and add bulk to stool. Oatmeal, legumes, psyllium husk, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are great sources of soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber, which accelerates the movement of waste through the digestive tract, may improve symptoms of people with IBS-C. Great sources of insoluble fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, wheat brain, and nuts.
Myth 6: People With IBS Can Never Eat “Trigger Foods”
It is true that certain foods can trigger IBS symptoms more than others, but it can be helpful to think of your tolerance to certain foods like a bucket. The size of the bucket will be different for everyone. Some people have larger buckets than others, meaning they can tolerate more foods that are classic IBS triggers, such as caffeine, spicy foods, and high-fat foods. People with smaller buckets tend to have a lower threshold for IBS trigger foods. The bottom line is that some people with IBS can tolerate more trigger foods than others.