The Connection between IBS and Sugar

According to the American Journal of Gastroenterology, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely to test positive for food sensitivities than people without the condition. And now there's new research showing a strong correlation between IBS and sugar intolerance. One small study of 25 patients with IBS showed that after drinking a variety of solutions containing sugar, including lactose, fructose, sorbitol, sucrose and a combination of fructose and sorbitol, 90 percent of the participants showed sugar intolerance to at least one of the sugars. When the sugar was removed from the diet, 40 percent of the patients showed marked improvement.

In a larger study of 239 patients with functional bowel disorders, 94 had a diagnosis of IBS, while the remainder of the volunteers had other functional complaints. When the study participants were given hydrogen and methane tests, 90 percent were found to have some type of sugar intolerance and a large portion of the group was found to have an intolerance to more than one type of sugar. After restricting intake of the sugars, 50 percent of the volunteers in each group showed symptom improvement.

Other researchers hypothesize that small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) also plays a major role in the symptoms of IBS and that SIBO can be diagnosed using hydrogen breath testing after a patient ingests lactulose, a sugar that the body can't digest. It's thought that if hydrogen breath levels increase after drinking the lactulose solution, it may mean that bacteria are present in the small intestine, causing the fermentation, which results in breath hydrogen.

Although the link between IBS and sugar intolerance is still under investigation, talk with your doctor to see if diagnostic testing for sugar intolerance is right for you. You may also find it helpful to keep a food diary and write down all the types of sugars you ingest and their effect on your IBS. Once you've discovered your sugar triggers, you can start eliminating them from your diet and see if you get some relief.

In addition to sugars, these foods may also cause or worsen your IBS symptoms:

  • Fatty foods, such as French fries
  • Milk products
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated drinks like coffee and some sodas
  • Carbonated drinks like soda

Eating four or five smaller meals each day instead of three big ones, may also help reduce IBS symptoms.