Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Chances are that you are one of the estimated 10 to 15% of the global population who suffer from this condition of the digestive system, ranging from mild discomfort and frustration to being completely debilitating.

It’s particularly common amongst City workers, with their stressed-out busy lives and poor eating habits largely resulting from stuffing down whatever food they can get their hands on during their ‘break’ whilst eating at their desk and staring at their screens. It is a common sight across City trading floors and office plans. Not that I’m really much better, I must admit.

Stress, they say, is the number one cause of IBS. Change your lifestyle, and all will be fine, so the theory goes. Until now. The role of diet has often been casually associated with IBS. Stay away from gluten, dairy, eggs etc… and other common known ‘allergens’ has been the common advice amongst gastroenterologists and GPs struggling to make sense of clear colonoscopy results.

It’s like, 2 days preparation of sitting on the loo, clearing the bowels and fasting is definitely worth the price to pay for peace of mind, but now you want me to keep a food diary? Forget it.

You can get various food intolerance tests that may reveal that you have a problem with ‘gluten’, and for the estimated 1% of the global population that are diagnosed with coeliac disease, it’s a life-long “love affair” with avoiding everything that contains gluten, and there’s many. Think soy sauce, as an example.

However for the remaining, ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitive’ sufferers, gluten is still a big issue. Or it appears to be at least. On my recent yoga teacher training, there was a lady doing the course who had a wide range of food sensitivity issues, including gluten. She was also one of the most anxious, nervous people I had ever met. I couldn’t help but feel there was a connection between what she ate and her state of mind. Perhaps.

However, what caught my eye this weekend was this headline in a UK newspaper:

The findings confirmed what I suspected and have read about all along. ‘Gluten’ alone isn’t the culprit. It’s this awkward acronym called FODMAPS that could be the issue. FODMAPS stands for:

A mouthful huh? In short, FODMAPs are short-chain fermentable carbohydrates that may be poorly absorbed by some people. After moving through the small bowel, these molecules find their way to the large bowel where they are consumed by the bacteria that normally live there, causing symptoms associated with IBS. There are a whole host of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains and legumes that are high in FODMAPs. Wheat grain and wheat-containing foods in particular contain fructans. Therefore it is suggested that people known to have a ‘perceived’ sensitivity to gluten, should avoid these foods. You can read more about FODMAPS, here.

My own experience with gluten suggests that there may be some truth to this, although as I have previously noted, it’s also about ‘what bread you eat’, rather than eating gluten per se.

The same paper that brought these eye-catching headlines made a spectacular own goal when their food columnist, Eve Simmons, in her column proudly announced that:

there remains no scientific evidence that gluten has any negative effect on the body.”

The paper headline though tells a different story. Priceless.

Aside, if you suffer from IBS and think gluten is causing the issue, perhaps its worth a conversation with a nutritionist. In London, I can recommend Lisa Blair, or Rae Guerrero at Well Works, who are both qualified functional medicine specialists and are knowledgeable in this subject matter – such diets should only be undertaken under the supervision of qualified dietitians or nutritionists.

That said, the truth be told that the FODMAPS diet looks quite daunting for the average City slicker and requires a lot of discipline. SIBO (Small Intestine Bowel Overgrowth) is another avenue to explore in dealing with IBS, which equally involves an elimination diet.

If you do suffer from IBS, I wish you all the best on your own unique journey. When worst comes to worst, there’s always the ‘fecal transplants‘ option. Or maybe not.