Fodmap Diet Shows Promise Taming Stomachs

Dr. Jason Tye-Din collects blood from a patient at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne.

These foods can cause bloating, excess gas, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea in some people hallmarks of irritable bowel syndrome experienced by at least 10 percent to 15 percent of adults, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, a research and education group in Milwaukee, Wis. “I pieced together what was an experimental diet,” said Shepherd, who began teaching the regimen in her private dietetics practice in early 1997. “I wasn’t randomly picking these foods. They all had something in common: They were all potentially not absorbed in the small intestine.” Peter Gibson, gastroenterology professor at Melbourne’s Monash University, helped coin the term Fodmap to describe the molecules people with irritable bowel syndrome have difficulty stomaching: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols found in dozens of everyday things from apples and wheat to milk, high-fructose corn syrup and sugarless chewing gum. Shepherd, who has celiac disease, tested her diet on 25 people, preparing all their meals herself for 22 weeks in a study that formed part of a Ph.D. thesis at Monash. She found the diet quelled symptoms in at least 70 percent of participants, compared with 12 percent given a placebo meal resembling typical Australian fare. “I honestly nearly fell off my chair because it looked just too good to be true,” said Shepherd, who now employs 13 dietitians in a practice that sees about 4,000 people a year. “I still pinch myself at how successful it is and how big it’s become. It’s literally gone global.” The research drew attention to the role of diet in medicine and gastroenterological diseases especially, said Josh Butt, a gastroenterology fellow at Monash. The diet has gained popularity in the United States since Gibson and Shepherd spoke on the topic at the American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting a year ago, said Patsy Catsos, a dietitian and author in Portland, Maine, who keeps a list of more than 90 dietitians who feel comfortable delivering the diet. “Nutritionists here in the U.S. are thrilled with the diet, happy to have something to offer their patients that has scientific backing and good results,” said Barbara Bradley Bolen, a clinical psychologist in Farmingdale and Northport, N.Y., who has written two self-help books on irritable bowel syndrome. Some gastroenterologists are recommending the diet to their IBS patients, Bolen said.

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