The low-FODMAP diet is currently one of the most popular diets in the world. Launched in early 2018, the diet gained popularity after celebrities and social media influencers started sharing their personal experience with the dietary change. Celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, who has millions of followers on social media, and Jaden Smith, a child actor who has also become a vegan activist, promoted the diet. The diet bans people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) from eating foods containing FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, and monosaccharides).
However, while there is certainly anecdotal evidence that individuals with IBS who followed the low-FODMAP diet had some improvement in their condition, there is a lack of evidence that suggests the diet actually helps people with IBS. That is not to say that the diet is without its challenges. One of the key barriers to the diet’s popularity is that it is not based on evidence. Because the diet is not evidence-based, it is difficult to determine whether or not it is actually helping people with IBS. That, in turn, makes it difficult for people with IBS to determine whether or not they should actually try the diet. Fortunately, that barrier exists because there is a lack of solid scientific evidence to support or refute the effectiveness of the diet. That being said, it is not a given that simply because a diet is not evidence-based that it does not work. There are many cases where no scientific evidence is present but the diet is still effective.
The Evidence-Based Approach
While the low-FODMAP diet is certainly not alone in falling into this camp, it is an example of a diet where anecdotal evidence and personal testimonials have largely propelled its popularity and made it difficult for people with IBS to determine whether or not it is effective. In the interest of providing individuals with IBS with the best chance at dietary success, it is critical that doctors, dietitians, and individuals interested in following the diet, develop an evidence-based approach.
Now, when it comes to eating disorders and disordered eating, there is a tendency for some to argue that an evidence-based approach is not the be all, end all of dietary guidance. After all, many people with eating disorders do not follow the typical recommendations made by medical professionals, and vice versa. This is a fair point. However, if we are truly interested in providing individuals with IBS with the best chance at dietary success, an evidence-based approach is the necessary first step.
Is There Evidence to Support Or Refute the FODMAP Diet?
To begin with, let’s take a look at the evidence surrounding the efficacy of the low-FODMAP diet for individuals with IBS before moving on to discuss other potential applications of the diet. The first place to start is the Cochrane Library. The Cochrane Library is one of the most important sources of information regarding the effectiveness of various therapies and approaches. In the Cochrane Library, you can find systematic reviews of various treatments and interventions for IBS, along with the latest clinical trials.
In terms of the low-FODMAP diet, there is currently one Cochrane systematic review that examines the impact of the diet on people with IBS. The review’ authors, Dr. Aisha Dodani and Dr. Tim Smeeth of the London School of Economics and Political Science, concluded that there is no evidence that the diet improves IBS symptoms.
Now, it is important to keep in mind that this review only examined the effect of the diet on individuals with IBS. While there is certainly no evidence that the diet helps people with IBS, there is also no evidence that it hurts individuals with IBS either. It is always important, when evaluating the evidence, to consider what type of individuals were in the studies being examined. In this case, the studies only included people with IBS and determined that the diet did not improve IBS symptoms. However, it is also important to consider other factors, such as what type of dieter was in the study and whether or not the diet was appropriate for the individual being examined. This is because there are various types of diets that are effective for people with IBS and it is important to determine which one is best suited for an individual patient.
What Is the Appropriateness of the FODMAP Diet for People With IBS?
Many people with IBS, and those who care about them, want to know if the low-FODMAP diet is appropriate for these individuals. This is an important question because not all diets are made equal and because there are numerous diets that have been shown to be effective for people with IBS. When determining whether or not a diet is appropriate for people with IBS, it is critical to examine the specific requirements of the diet being considered. In this case, the low-FODMAP diet has no specific requirements and it is, therefore, completely generalizable to people with IBS. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that this is necessarily the case. There are individual variations between people that make one diet better suited than another for a particular patient. This is why it is so important, when evaluating the evidence, to consider the specific requirements of the diet being examined.
How Is the Low-FODMAP Diet Managed During Pregnancy?
Many people with IBS want to know if the low-FODMAP diet is safe to try while they are pregnant. Since there is currently a lack of clinical data directly connecting obesity, diabetes, and IBS, it is generally agreed, by medical professionals, that the low-FODMAP diet is safe to try during pregnancy. This is mainly because the diet does not cause these conditions and, in most cases, people with these conditions are already restricted in their diets due to the nature of their illnesses. This being said, it is always important to remember that no single diet is a one-size-fits-all approach and that it is always necessary to tailor dietary recommendations to the individual patient.
Should the Low-FODMAP Diet Be Considered for Individuals With Other Conditions?
There is ongoing research, with regards to people with IBS, that examines if the low-FODMAP diet is more effective for some disorders than others. At this point, the evidence does not support the diet as being particularly effective for any specific condition. For instance, there is currently no evidence that the diet improves the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is also no evidence that the diet aggravates the condition either. It is always necessary to consider multiple factors when making dietary recommendations, including but not limited to the condition being treated and the overall approach to healthful eating. It would be a mistake to consider the diet as effective just because it is not harmful. This is why it is always a good idea to examine the evidence before making any type of recommendation.
To put it simply, the low-FODMAP diet is one of the most popular diets in the world because it is not based on any scientific evidence. However, that does not mean it does not work. There are many cases where no scientific evidence is present but the diet is still effective. This is because there are many people, with varying types of digestive conditions, who have found it to be quite effective in treating their symptoms. In these cases, the low-FODMAP diet is not harming anyone and, therefore, it should not be difficult for people with IBS to try it. It is always advisable to try and establish an evidence-based approach, whenever possible, when developing dietary recommendations. This will ensure that everyone, including the individual being treated, can benefit from the approach being taken.
To learn more about the effects of diet on IBS, including how to make the dietary changes, why those changes need to be made, and the symptoms that should be monitored, you can download a free copy of my eBook, The IBS Diet Solution, here. Within the eBook, you will find resources, including links to more reliable and reputable sources of information.