You have probably heard me talk about the high rates of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) amongst women diagnosed with endometriosis, but I had some of my PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) ladies ask whether this may also be the case for them too! I did some digging into the research for today’s blog to bring you the answers.
But first of all…
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), is a condition that affects the digestive system. IBS causes unpleasant symptoms in your tummy that can leave you feeling like you’re a few months pregnant (when you’re not) and running to the bathroom.
Symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain or tummy cramps
- Passing wind
- Feeling that your bowels are not completely empty after going.
There are a few types of IBS:
- IBS-C – constipation dominant
- IBS-D – diarrhoea dominant
- IBS-M – mixture of constipation and diarrhoea
You may be feeling isolated and lost because you just can’t seem to find the answer. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! 1 in 5 people in Australia are affected with IBS and unfortunately, it is a condition that affects more women than men.
Sadly, we are not quite sure what the exact cause or causes of IBS are, but we do know what can trigger IBS like symptoms including:
- Stress or anxiety,
- Food intolerances (FODMAPs and food chemicals)
- Hormone changes
- Meal size
- Not chewing your food enough
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, it is important that you talk to your doctor as there may be other reasons for these symptoms that need to be addressed before tackling your IBS.
What is the link between PCOS and IBS?
I have previously spoken about what PCOS is all about and what are some dietary options to help manage the symptoms and health outcomes of PCOS. If you can’t remember what I spoke about, head here to check it out!
A 2010 paper highlighted the link between PCOS and IBS. They found that there are greater rates of IBS in women that suffer from PCOS when compared to women that did not have PCOS. This study found about 42% of women with PCOS also had IBS compared to the healthy women who had a 10% IBS diagnosis rate (Mathur et al., 2010).
Where’s the overlap?
We know that IBS is more common in women than in men, and they are more responsive to certain treatments for IBS, could this be a result of differences in sex hormones? Namely, estrogen and progesterone?
Although PCOS is characterised by high levels of androgens like testosterone, this has not been previously researched in IBS before.
I have already discussed the link between hormones around our menstrual cycle and changes in bowel habits, you can read more about that here.
So it looks like the jury is out on WHY women with PCOS are more likely to have a diagnosis of IBS than other women, and given this is a small study it is important to speak to your doctor to rule out any more serious causes of your gut symptoms before assuming it is IBS and treating accordingly to avoid missing more sinister health conditions.
What about the low FODMAP diet?
The low FODMAP diet is a researched short-term dietary trial involving the reduction of certain foods that contain carbohydrates that may be triggering your IBS symptoms. It is effective in significantly reducing the symptoms for 50-80% of IBS cases.
This diet is certainly NOT simple and should not be attempted without the guidance of a dietitian, as it can cause lots of confusion and staying on the diet for longer than recommended which can further compromise your gut health.
Please talk to your dietitian before starting the low FODMAP diet, this is really important as they will ensure you are staying as safe and healthy as possible.
- The FODMAP Challenge – a fabulous dietitian-designed resource that guides you through the diet online with extra support and resources also available!
- Monash University FODMAP website – a great place to start with learning more about FODMAPs and IBS. Monash University FODMAP app – an indispensable tool when it comes to endeavouring into the world of FODMAPs, get your dietitian to show you how to use the app!
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Co-written by Maddison Breen, Master of Nutrition and Dietetics student from the University of Sydney. Connect with Maddi on LinkedIn.