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Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Relief: Why a Multidimensional Approach Might Be Best

Updated on May 5, 2023

Article Summary

  • Evidence suggests that curcumin-augmented diets, high-fiber diets, and gluten-free diets might help address IBS symptoms
  • Combining these strategies might provide greater symptom management than using any one strategy alone
  • Choosing the right supplement is critical for individuals who want to incorporate curcumin

Finding and sticking to a diet that helps minimize irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms can be a tedious and uncomfortable undertaking. Because there’s no known cause of IBS—nor a cure—individuals typically experiment on their own, trying out a range of restrictive diets in the hope that one will contain the right combination of foods. Too often, each experiment ends in disappointment, because symptoms aren’t responded to. Meanwhile, prescription medications are not suitable for everyone, nor do they offer a durable solution for the full range of symptoms patients might experience. As such, diet remains a primary site of potential intervention, and patients continue their search for symptom management.

While the medical community has yet to develop a consensus regarding the best diet for irritable bowel syndrome, there are promising options. Preliminary evidence supports at least three separate dietary interventions as being helpful for patients: curcumin-augmented diets, high-fiber diets, and gluten-free diets. 

For individuals whose IBS symptoms remain uncontrolled by other dietary interventions and therapies, these diets might offer new hope for addressing their symptoms. However, they should not necessarily be used in isolation; combining high-fiber and gluten-free diets with curcumin supplementation could provide superior nutritional support.*

Curcumin-Augmented Diets

Derived from the root of the common spice called turmeric, the botanical constituent known as curcumin is a compelling option for individuals who are seeking a dietary intervention that can provide nutritional support for their IBS symptoms.* Curcumin has a long history of human use, and because it is commonly consumed when eating foods spiced with turmeric, is presumed to be safe. 

Although researchers aren’t yet certain why curcumin is helpful for individuals with IBS, it’s likely related to curcumin’s primary mechanism of action and its role in supporting the gut microbiome.*

Simply consuming additional turmeric spice is unlikely to provide sufficient additional curcumin to be beneficial. Rather, research suggests that specialized nutritional supplements that deliver appropriate concentrations of curcumin could have a significant benefit.* 

In a 2016 study, curcumin and fennel essential oil improved quality of life in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome.* 

When comparing the study’s subjects who augmented their normal diets with curcumin versus those who augmented their normal diets with an inactive placebo, the curcumin group was 13.6 percent less likely to report that IBS interfered with their quality of life after the trial’s conclusion.* These results indicate that a curcumin-augmented diet might be a valid way forward for patients seeking a novel way of providing nutritional support for responding to their IBS symptoms.* 

Other scientific literature supports the idea that curcumin is a promising addition to diets intended to manage IBS. A 2018 meta-analysis of five trials testing curcumin’s efficacy in IBS found that patients with IBS who took curcumin reported an increase in their quality of life.* 

Nonetheless, in aggregate, the authors of the meta-analysis found that despite being effective for the majority of subjects, the variability of curcumin’s effectiveness was very high from trial to trial. Some trials exhibited significant benefit, whereas others only reported minor benefits. This can most likely be attributed to the fact that none of the trials used the same formulation of curcumin. The result of this variability meant that the authors of the meta-analysis couldn’t definitively state that curcumin was confirmed to be effective for IBS.

Taking available evidence into account, curcumin is likely to provide beneficial nutritional support to individuals with IBS,* but more research needs to be performed to clarify which formulations of curcumin are the most effective in the context of a diet designed to address IBS. It is important to note, however, that none of the existing studies found curcumin to carry adverse effects for IBS patients. As such, individuals who are interested in adding curcumin to their diet today should look for a curcumin supplements that has been designed for maximum bioavailability to optimize curcumin’s potential benefits for gastrointestinal health.*   

High-Fiber Diets

A growing body of evidence suggests that diets that are high in soluble fiber are likely beneficial for IBS. In a 2014 systematic review published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers examined 14 clinical trials that had managed IBS with fiber-rich diets. Encompassing 906 patients in total, patients enrolled in the trials who ate fiber-rich diets were 14 percent less likely to experience any symptoms of IBS. However, meaningful symptom reduction was only associated with soluble fiber, suggesting that foods like broccoli, figs, bananas, onions, and almonds should be included in diets intended to manage IBS. 

Notably, bran cereals, a common source of insoluble fiber, were not associated with symptom reduction. Older findings go even further, suggesting that bran and perhaps other insoluble fibers might be actively harmful for IBS patients. In a 1994 study of 100 patients with IBS who included bran in their diet, 55 percent of the patients reported that eating bran regularly made their IBS symptoms worse, whereas only 10 percent said that it improved their symptoms. This indicates that simply starting a diet with “high fiber” might be counterproductive if the patient consumes food products like bran, which are predominantly insoluble fiber rather than soluble fiber. 

Critically, most fruits and vegetables—key sources of soluble fiber—contain a significant proportion of insoluble fiber as well. As a result, patients might have a hard time getting assistance with their IBS symptoms while undergoing a high-fiber diet depending on their level of sensitivity to the insoluble fiber that will be present in their food. But while these diets might not be suitable for every patient, they might offer significant symptom management for individuals who can tolerate a certain proportion of insoluble fiber.

Gluten-Free Diets

Currently, one of the most popular dietary strategies for individuals with gastrointestinal conditions is gluten-free diets. These diets contain only foods that have no wheat gluten or related substances, meaning that many common foods, like bread, are off-limits. In recent years, gluten-free diets have become somewhat of a fad and have been promoted as managing a broad range of health conditions, although robust evidence supporting most of these claims remains forthcoming. Although gluten-free diets are highly restrictive, they might provide symptom management for certain individuals who have IBS.

Although there is some evidence that gluten-free diets might be beneficial for IBS, there is no medical consensus, despite a considerable volume of research on the topic. This research is still ongoing, however; for example, a systematic review published in 2018 examined two clinical trials that measured whether gluten-free diets were beneficial for patients with IBS.

In these trials, strict adherence to a gluten-free diet reduced the risk of developing IBS symptoms by an aggregate 58 percent, indicating that gluten elimination could produce significant benefits. Nonetheless, the researchers conducting the review found that patients who ate a gluten-free diet in the two trials did not necessarily exhibit IBS symptoms when they were later exposed to gluten, casting doubt on the validity of the results.

Despite the lack of empirical evidence supporting a gluten-free diet for individuals with IBS, there are still compelling reasons for these individuals to avoid consuming excessive amounts of gluten. The connection between worsening IBS symptoms and increasing gluten consumption is firmly established, with a 2015 analysis of seven studies finding that gluten exposure significantly aggravated IBS symptoms of the vast majority of subjects in all seven trials. 

Indeed, researchers found that anywhere from 30 percent to 90 percent of the subjects exhibited worsening symptoms when exposed to gluten in a meal. As the research currently stands, individuals with IBS should probably avoid consuming foods with high gluten content, although there is no guarantee that doing so will prevent every symptom because gluten is not the only factor that can aggravate IBS. 

The Possibility of a Synthesis Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome

In light of the inconclusive evidence regarding the ideal diet for inflammatory bowel syndrome, individuals with IBS should look to new horizons to more fully address their symptoms. Using several diets in conjunction might be the best approach, because they might respond to IBS symptoms via multiple mechanisms. For some individuals, refraining from consuming excessive quantities of gluten, consuming more soluble fiber, and taking a high-quality curcumin supplement might provide the multi-dimensional nutritional support necessary to beneficially respond to their symptoms.* 

Although there is no existing research that has investigated this synthesis of dietary strategies, an abundance of evidence suggests it could help individuals who have IBS by eliminating ingredients known to aggravate symptoms while supplying the body with the nutrients necessary to support gut health.* 

Most importantly, the synthesis of a high-fiber and gluten-free diet supported by curcumin supplementation is safe and does not prohibit the consumption of any nutrient, vitamin, mineral, protein, or calorie source. This means that many individuals might be able to retain their preferred diet and merely make several modifications to ensure compliance with the necessary restrictions. 

Choosing the correct supplemental form of curcumin is critical for this synthesis diet. Chemically, curcumin is the representative member of a group of molecules called curcuminoids. Certain curcuminoids, such as tetrahydrocurcumin, have greater bioavailability, making them easier for the body to utilize, and potentially leading to better results. As such, choosing a supplement with tetrahydrocurcumin could help individuals experience greater efficacy and optimal nutritional support.*

Regardless of the management strategy chosen, individuals with IBS can take solace in the fact that all potential dietary avenues of managing IBS are under intense scrutiny by researchers. Although a comprehensive diet that patients with IBS can use to stay symptom-free has yet to be developed, research is ongoing and advances are being made. In the meantime, patients with this condition should work with their doctors to create multidimensional management plans geared toward their individual needs and preferences.

The power of Tesseract supplements lies in enhancing palatability, maximizing bioavailability and absorption, and micro-dosing of multiple nutrients in a single, highly effective capsule. Visit our website for more information about how Tesseract’s products can help support your gastrointestinal health.*

Works Cited

Ng QX, Soh AYS, et al. 2018. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 7(10):298

Moayyedi P, Quigley EM, et al. 2014. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 109(9):1367-1374

Francis CY, Whorwhell PJ. 1994. Lancet. 344(8914):39-40

Dionne J, Ford AC, et al. 2018. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 113(9):1290-1300

De Giorgio R, Volta U, Gibson PR. 2015. Gut. 65:169-178.

Al Czap, Founder | Tesseract

Al Czap has more than four decades of professional experience in preventative medicine. He founded Thorne Research in 1984 (sold in 2010) and he published Alternative Medicine Review for 17 years beginning in 1996. AMR was a highly acclaimed, peer-reviewed, and indexed medical journal. Al was the first to recognize the need for hypoallergenic ingredients and to devise methods of manufacture for and delivery of hypoallergenic products to underserved patient populations. His work has greatly impacted those with impaired immune and digestive systems and compromised health due to environmental exposures.

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