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Dr. Barbara Bolen

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Blog


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Wheat and IBS

Thursday May 29, 2014

After years of being neglected by IBS researchers, the role of diet is finally being given some attention. I just came across an article with an interesting discussion of the relationship between wheat and IBS. If you have been reading my blogs, you may have already wondered about whether or not gluten was playing a role in your symptoms. Researchers have now coined the term "nonceliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)" to describe individuals who do not have celiac disease, but who experience symptoms after eating foods containing gluten. In the article, the authors make the interesting point that gluten is only one component of wheat. This current article dovetails with my article "IBS and Gluten Intolerance", in which I include the perspective offered by other researchers that wheat also contains fructans, a type of FODMAP. If you are interested in the cutting edge science of the role of wheat and gluten in IBS, I recommend that you read the full article:

If you think that a wheat or gluten sensitivity is contributing to your IBS, there are important things you should do before cutting these things out of your diet. Here you will find your step-by-step guide:

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IBS: What's In A Name?

Monday May 26, 2014

As an IBS writer, I frequently find myself in a position in which I must choose how to best characterize people who have IBS. In the past, I have freely used the term "IBS sufferer", in addition to using the descriptions "IBS patient" and "person who has IBS". However, the term "sufferer" is one that some people coping with other health problems have objected to. To me, saying that someone suffers from IBS is a pretty accurate way to describe the toll that IBS takes on a person. However, I would not want to use a term that would cause offense. Because I believe in the power of democracy, I thought it would be best to put it to a vote. Feel free to vote for more than one choice:

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IBS and Raw Vegetables

Thursday May 22, 2014

I am frequently asked the question, "Does eating raw vegetables and salads aggravate IBS?" Not necessarily a question that a PubMed search is going to shed any light on because no one is going to pay money to do a study to see if eating salads makes people with IBS feel worse. The answer that I gave is that over the years I have frequently heard from many IBS patients that they have found that raw vegetables and salads do not agree with their systems.

Why might this be the case? Certainly uncooked vegetables require more work on the part on the digestive system as it has to break down food components and deal with the fiber content of the produce without the benefit of heat to start the process for it. On the other hand, can it just be that when one is eating salads or raw vegetables, one is simply eating a larger volume of produce, thus increasing gas and osmotic "load", along the lines of the FODMAPs diet theory? These are just my guesses and I am open to anyone else who might have a theory.

I hope no one reading this thinks to themselves, "okay, then, no more raw vegetables for me!" Every body is different and IBS is different in every person. Proponents of raw diets discuss the benefits of eating raw foods so as to benefit from the full array of enzymes in food and to reduce immune system reactivity during digestion. I would thus recommend that you be a scientist - do raw vegetables cause a problem for you? Is it just certain vegetables? You may find it helpful to use the FODMAPs list as a starting guide - "Foods on the FODMAP Diet".

If you would like to reap the benefits of raw vegetables, but are wary about the effects on your body, one option is to consider the use of juicing. Although I am only making an educated guess, juicing may provide a more comfortable way to access the nutritional benefits of raw vegetables:

Of course, there is always the option of just cooking them!

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Do You Have Allergies Alongside Your IBS?

Monday May 19, 2014

If you read my blog regularly, you will know that I have been keeping my eye on unfolding research regarding a relationship between IBS and common allergies. I am not talking about an overlap between IBS and food allergies, but rather the question as to whether IBS patients are more likely to suffer from allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema. I have pulled the scant research to date together into one article for you:

Do you suffer from allergies alongside your IBS? Read my article, then come back here to take my unscientific poll!

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Great Movie: "Hungry for Change"

Thursday May 15, 2014

You may or may not know that I live with what sometimes seems like a bunch of cavemen - a husband and two very large, growing like weeds, late adolescent aged boys. On a recent quiet (you can read "pathetic" Friday night), my husband asked if we had a movie to watch. I said I had only a nutrition movie that had been recommended to me. My husband and the one son who was home said they would take a pass and went to the mall. They arrived home as I was watching the last twenty minutes of the film, "Hungry for Change" and instantly, their eyes were glued to the screen. Then, miracle upon miracle, they watched the movie from the beginning after I went to bed!

What was this movie about that drew their attention and why am I telling you about it? The movie is about the relationship between diet and health. What is compelling about it is how well the film producers present the information as to how and why our current diet and processed foods are bad for us. The movie offers a way to take charge of your own health and avoid falling into the trap of modern day illness and the reliance on prescription medicine. The movie consists of interviews with experts as well as some transformational stories. Most importantly, it is edited in a way that it can even keep the attention of a caveman.

Although the movie does not address IBS specifically, changing your diet to one of whole foods rather than processed foods is only going to help your body to heal. I frequently think of the reader of this site who referred to people with IBS as the "canaries in the coal mines", whose digestive systems are the early warning signs that food additives, chemicals, preservatives, antibiotics, pesticides, isolates, and goodness knows what else is in the foods that are sold, may be good for food producers but are not good for food consumers, namely us humans.

As for my family, since watching the movie, my son no longer eats those awful neon-colored boxed breakfast cereals. We have had fun trying out new recipes together for quick and easy home-cooked breakfasts and breads. It may be a coincidence, but he has not had a migraine headache since he has made the change. My husband has followed my lead and now drinks a wheatgrass supplement drink each morning and reports that he no longer has that mid-afternoon energy slump. Amazing the effects that one movie can have!

The website for the movie can be found at the following link. For your own health, and the health of your loved ones, please watch this movie!

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Dealing with IBS in Children

Monday May 12, 2014

When my older son was quite young, he was simultaneously diagnosed with a cardiac and a neurological problem. With a newborn in the house, I was quite overwhelmed with all of the doctor appointments and the medication schedule. The worst part, though, was having to see him in pain as he dealt with too many medical procedures. I used to think, "I am not good at this!" Looking back, of course, I was good at it - I stayed calm and was soothing to him, I was just a mess on the inside.

As challenging as that time of life was, our experience was very different than it would have been if my son's diagnosis was IBS. His health problems showed up cleanly on tests and medications were quickly dispensed to address his symptoms. As we all know, this is often not the case with IBS. I have recently started a series of articles to help parents to understand and deal with the unique challenges that come into family life when a child develops IBS. Here is the first installment:

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Mother's Day: Be Good to Your Stomach and Go Work In Your Garden

Monday May 5, 2014

Here in the Northeast where I live, Mother's Day has this magical significance of being the time where it is safe to plant summer flowers and vegetables outdoors. It must have something to do with being sufficiently beyond the time of the last expected frost. Wherever you live, did you know that there might be some benefits to your digestive health if you go out and get your hands dirty? I kid you not! You can read more about it here:

So, get out there and plant something. Spend Mother's Day with Mother Nature!

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Low FODMAP Diet and Infant Colic

Tuesday April 29, 2014

While doing some research on the low-FODMAP Diet, I came across a reference to some preliminary work on the diet for breastfeeding mothers who have babies who have colic. Please, please keep in mind that these studies have not yet been published, which means they have not gone through rigourous scientific review. However, the whole notion of it to me is so wonderful that I felt compelled to share it with you.

The published paper that I was reading was authored by Dr. Jaqueline Barrett from Monash University in Australia (where most of the research on the diet is conducted). According to Dr. Barrett,two pilot (this means very small!) studies found a 100% success rate. That number is amazing, but most likely will not stand up quite so high when larger studies are initiated. To quote Dr. Barrett, "breastfeeding mothers switching to a low FODMAP diet report significant improvement in colic-related symptoms of their infant."

Please remember that no firm conclusions can be reached based on such preliminary work! If you are breastfeeding and are considering trying the diet, I strongly urge you to work with a qualified dietitian to ensure that you are meeting all of your nutritional needs, both for your health and that of your baby. I will continue to be on the lookout for more on this promising subject.

Want to learn more about the diet? Here are some helpful articles::


Barrett, J. "Extending Our Knowledge of Fermentable, Short-Chain Carbohydrates for Managing Gastrointestinal Symptoms" Nutrition in Clinical Practice 2013 28:300-306.

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IBS and Introversion

Monday April 28, 2014

I came across this excellent article written by Jonathan Rauch and I want the whole world to read it! It is called:

Many of my private practice patients have heard my sermon on "introversion in our society". It is my personal belief, nicely echoed by Mr. Rauch, that as a society we extol the virtues of extroversion, leaving those of us who are introverts to feel that there is something wrong with us. In my opinion, this bias contributes to social anxiety and low self-esteem.

To illustrate this point, I went to an all-girls high school in which their was a flower shop right next door. It was a tradition that girls would buy corsages for their friends on their birthdays. You can imagine that the cheerleaders would have a gazillion corsages pinned to their uniforms, while the more introverted or shy girls would have only a few. This dynamic has certainly come into the digital age, where people feel badly if they don't have hundreds of facebook friends!

One of the things that I liked about Mr. Rauch's article is that he made a distinction between being shy and being introverted. In my experience, one can be shy and be an extrovert, or be socially confident yet still be an introvert. It is also my opinion that shy people can learn to be more comfortable in social situations. Introversion is more about personal preference - do you thrive in the company of others or do you prefer to balance your social time with time spent alone.

I do not know if anyone has found a direct link between introversion and an increased risk for IBS. What I do know is that feeling badly about oneself can lead to anxiety in social situations and that anxiety can exacerbate the severity of IBS symptoms. I thus declare that it is time to embrace your inner introversion! Introversion/extroversion should have no more significance than if you are left-handed or right-handed. You can significantly reduce your social anxiety if you let yourself be who you are without passing negative self-judgement. Try it! Let me know if it has a positive effect on your IBS.

If you struggle with significant social anxiety, visit About.com's social anxiety disorder site.

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How Long Did it Take for the FODMAP Diet to Help?

Monday April 21, 2014

As I can see by the many readers who have answered this question, "How Hard Is It to Follow a Low FODMAPs Diet?", the low FODMAP diet has been relatively easy to follow and brings about good symptom relief. Someone asked me recently how long does it take before a person would see a change. As I know every body is different, I thought I would ask all of you:

Want to learn more about the diet? Here are some helpful articles::

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