IBS & Food intolerance

There is much talk in the media about NHS overspending. One area where the amount spent could be reduced drastically is that of gut problems, especially IBS. IBS is a diagnosis given to people with any of the following symptoms: bloating, abdominal pain, loose stools, diarrhoea and/or constipation.

I see several patients every week with IBS. Those who have seen their GP are generally sent to hospital to see an expensive consultant and get expensive tests: endoscopies, colonoscopies and so on, to rule out any pathology. In the majority of cases nothing is found to be wrong.

This is because most cases of IBS are caused by food. Doctors have been known to laugh at this suggestion, or at best they suggest the patient keeps a food diary. However, it is hard to see a direct relationship between symptoms and foods that are being consumed daily, such as cow’s milk and wheat. Cow’s milk protein is by far the most common cause of IBS, with wheat coming second, especially when constipation is a feature.

It makes common sense that the food we eat might directly affect the gut. People often know that they feel bloated and sleepy after eating wheat or that they get an attack of diarrhoea after eating cream.

Surely it would make sense, and save the NHS money, to carry out a simple and cheap test to see if food is causing a person’s IBS? If they stop eating that food and the symptoms disappear (which they usually do within a few days) then there would be no need to go on to do expensive tests, leaving those for people who really need them.

If you want to check if dairy or wheat are causing you a problem it does not hurt to cut them out of your diet for a week or two and see if there is an improvement. You do have to avoid them completely though, reading all the ingredients on things to make sure it is not creeping into your diet anywhere.

Various allergy and food intolerance tests are available at your own expense. I would not advise blood tests that only look for gluten allergy or lactose intolerance as they tend to miss the far more common problems with wheat and cow’s milk protein.