By Ned Snyder III, M.D., M.A.C.P., A.G.A.F.
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) can be a sneaky condition. There isn’t a biomarker for it. We can’t blood test for it. There isn’t even one set of symptoms that are identical for everyone, so diagnosis of gastrointestinal illnesses can quickly become a process of elimination to determine if a patient is really suffering from IBS. One problem that seems to keep cropping up: high fructose corn syrup.
We have a lot of bacteria in our gut. In fact, there is so much of it that it’s almost an entirely separate organ system. And these bacteria are different in each of us.
The bacteria work to break down what we eat, and because they’re so individualized to each person, it means they can break compounds differently. This is why, for example, some people have no problem breaking down certain foods, but others do not.
There is some evidence that the same can be said about high fructose corn syrup. It seems the bacteria we have in our small bowel and colon react differently to short-change sugars, specifically the kind of sugars found in high fructose corn syrup. Some people seem to be able to break them down just fine, while in others, the bacteria causes fermentation. This can in turn cause some of the bloating and gas-like symptoms – and also the diarrhea – that is commonly attributed to IBS. This means that sometimes, patients who think they have IBS might not in fact be suffering from that particular condition. They might just have a problem with high fructose corn syrup!
The best way to determine what ails you is to talk with your doctor. And again, because IBS can be difficult to diagnose, there might be a process of elimination to help determine what you have. Common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain or cramping; bloated, gas-like feelings; diarrhea and constipation – and these symptoms are not identical in every case of IBS.
What You Eat Has a Bearing
There is very likely an extremely fine line between IBS and food sensitivity. That being said, there are measures you can take to determine if you’re sensitive to something that you’re eating that could be causing IBS-like symptoms. Monitor your high fructose corn syrup intake. Talk to your doctor to see if you might have a problem with gluten (and if you don’t have a gluten allergy, remember that cutting out gluten altogether may not be good for you). Watch your lactose intake. Some of the recommended diet programs are pretty stringent, but they will likely help control your symptoms. In fact, diet is probably the most important tool you have to help manage IBS, or to prevent IBS-like symptoms.