Lifestyle | Health & Wellness

Don’t Fall For These 5 IBS Diet Fads!

Looking For A Quick Fix?

Having a chronic condition can leave you feeling stressed, anxious, frustrated and sometimes, desperate. Feeling uncomfortable all the time is just simply not fun. And quality of life can reach very high levels of “suck.” This ongoing – and extremely understandable — frustration can help explain why people with IBS often turn to purported “miracle” cures or treatments. And believe me, there are dozens of these IBS diet fads out there. But unfortunately, many of these are over-hyped at best and dangerous to your health at worst.

IBS Fads To Avoid

Read on for what to watch out for to protect your gut (and your wallet).

These Are The IBS Diet Fads To Avoid
  1. The Ketogenic Diet

This is the very trendy diet du jour, stolen from the early 1900s, and originally (and currently) used to treat intractable epilepsy in children[1]. Unfortunately, there’s very limited data to show that it’s useful for much beyond this original and important use case, though there have been a number of recent studies that have examined a modified ketogenic diet for weight loss, dementia and diabetes[2].

The basis of the diet is that instead of using carbohydrates for fuel, your body uses fat instead, turning it into ketone bodies to fuel your brain, muscles and organs via a process known as ketosis.

The ketogenic diet is very high in fat and extremely low in carbohydrates and protein. A hospital grade therapeutic ketogenic diet is 80-90% fat with the remainder of calories consisting of carbs and protein[3].

Most online keto plans (which may or may not put your body into ketosis) are 60-70% fat, 25-30% protein and 5-10% carbs. This amounts to a lot of butter, cream, cheese, nuts, avocados and meat.

Why You May Want To Avoid This If You Have IBS:

For individuals suffering from IBS, this large amount of fat intake can be extremely problematic, as fat is one of the main triggers of IBS symptoms[4], [5]. In addition, the ketogenic diet tends to be very low in fiber (because fiber is a carbohydrate), which can cause constipation and alterations in gut bacteria, and can also lead to further GI distress.

Finally, if you are an athlete, the ketogenic diet can make you feel like you are “bonking” (low on energy) on a daily basis, as the metabolism of fat is a long and complicated process[6]. Most athletes will require carbs for both quick and sustained energy[7]. And, again, the GI upset that high dietary intake of fat can bring will only be exacerbated during high-intensity or endurance bouts of exercise for individuals with IBS[8].


  1. Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is charcoal that’s been exposed to gases at high temperatures, which gives it a porous and highly absorptive surface. This allows it to grab onto and absorb the things it comes in contact with[9].

The theory is that activated charcoal absorbs “toxins” in the GI tract and calms the gut. There is science that shows that activated charcoal is effective for drug overdoses or ingestion of poisonous substances, but there is no science that demonstrates any effect for IBS or other gut symptoms[10].

As humans, we have a very fine natural detoxification system in our body that includes our liver, kidneys, lungs and skin. Charcoal is an unnecessary addition to this system.

Why You May Want To Avoid This If You Have IBS:

It’s important to remember that IBS is not a situation where you have “toxins in your gut,” but is rather a functional GI disorder characterized by a gut that just doesn’t do what it was designed to do, doesn’t have proper enzymes or transporters to digest certain foods and/or has a faulty gut-brain communication system[11]. So no amount of “detox” will relieve your symptoms.

Finally, activated charcoal may not only be unhelpful, it can be harmful. This substance can absorb other medications you’re taking as well as important vitamins and minerals, interfering with your health and safety in a serious and potentially life-threatening way[12].


  1. Celery Juice

This IBS diet fad has reached peak internet velocity over the past 6 months or so (late 2018/early 2019), showing up as the miracle cure for just about anything that ails you. It’s become especially popular in online gut health forums that discuss IBS, small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other related conditions.

The original source of this somewhat improbably craze is a self-professed “medical medium” who has no medical or nutrition training. Thus, it’s best to listen to what science actually has to say.

Some of the (unproven) claims regarding the wonders of celery juice include: restored gut health and digestion, balanced blood pH, reduction of gas and bloating, reversal of leaky gut, decreased inflammation, reduced blood pressure, increased stomach acid, reduced constipation, reduced risk of cancer, and generalized detoxification of the gut and body.

Sounds pretty incredible, right?

In reality, celery juice, like most vegetable juices, does contain some excellent vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and offers good hydration. But so does carrot juice or good ol’ V8.

Unfortunately, celery juice does not deliver anything unique that a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins cannot also provide[13].

Why You May Want To Avoid This If You Have IBS:

In addition, for those with gut issues such as IBS, celery can actually cause stomach distress, as it contains mannitol, which is a FODMAP. Plus, in utilizing multiple stalks of celery to make juice, individuals are more likely to consume a higher amount of mannitol than they might typically eat in stalks alone, which can further contribute to painful gas and bloating[14].

Finally, celery juice, like grapefruit juice, contains compounds that can interfere with certain medications, such as statins, blood pressure or anti-anxiety medications, causing the medications not to work properly and/or increasing side effects[15], [16].


  1. Aloe Vera Juice

Similar to celery juice, aloe juice comes with a reputation for myriad magical qualities, including anti-inflammatory properties and ability to reduce gas, bloating and constipation. This juice, extracted from the aloe vera plant, has long held great appeal in alternative healing circles due to its historical use as a medicinal plant. While the plant has been studied for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, most research and usage has been based on external use of the plant[17], rather than ingestion.

Why You May Want To Avoid This If You Have IBS:

It’s unclear where the myth of aloe vera juice as a treatment for IBS symptoms originated, but scientific research does not support its use, and the few random control studies that have been undertaken have found no benefit [18], [19].

In addition, the regular ingestion of aloe vera juice is not recommended due to the risk of significant side effects, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, allergic reactions, dehydration or electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar, elevated cancer risk and interactions with other medications[20].


  1. Bone Broth

A fancy name for stock, bone broth is essentially animal (fish, chicken, beef) bones that have been simmered with water (and sometimes herbs and spices) for many hours to several days.

It is thought that the long cooking time allows various minerals and proteins from the bones to leach into the broth, increasing its nutrient value. Calcium, iron, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, glutamine and collagen are amongst the nutrients that may be found in bone broth, however the levels of most of these are insufficient to deliver an excellent source of nutrition (e.g. you’d have to drink a LOT of broth). In fact, one intrepid amateur researcher recently analyzed her homemade bone broth and found it contained less calcium than kale[21].

Some proponents of bone broth believe that adding vinegar to the broth increases nutrition content by leaching minerals from the bones. However, because vinegar is a relatively mild acid and the ratio of vinegar to water in bone broth is very low, any increase in mineral content of the final product will be negligible.

In addition, some of the nutrients found in bones are denatured (broken down) during cooking, making them less useful in the body. And, while we know that bones and cartilage used for bone broth are generally rich with collagen, this does not necessarily translate to bone-building potential for you.

Collagen is not absorbed whole by the body, and instead is broken down into other amino acids, which are used throughout your body based on your current physiologic needs[22]. A better option might be to eat plenty of collagen-boosting foods, such as leafy greens, citrus fruits, lean meat, eggs, nuts and seeds, fish and oysters.

Why You May Want To Avoid This If You Have IBS:

Purported benefits of bone broth consumption include reduced inflammation, improved joint function, immune system modulation, “gut healing” and increased bone strength. As a whole, science doesn’t support these claims [23], [24]. And, as we discussed previously, From an IBS perspective, the gut does not need to be “healed” because IBS is a functional disorder and not one characterized by widespread inflammation or immune system activation. Click To Tweet

Finally, because animals can sequester (store) excess lead in their bones, over-consumption of bone broth can put individuals at risk for lead contamination. Small amounts of bone broth are not problematic, however it’s possible that large quantities could have adverse effects[25].


Summary

As much as we would like to find a cure for IBS, or at the very least, a simple solution for managing painful symptoms, at present the best strategies to manage symptoms include dietary modification (reducing intake of fat, alcohol, caffeine and other triggers, or the low FODMAP diet), physical activity, stress management, medication and/or a combination of these.

IBS diet fads might sound like a quick fix, but for the best regimen for your individual health needs, please work with your healthcare team (and not Dr. Google). Click To Tweet

REFERENCES:

  • [1]Wheless, J. (2008). History of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia49, 3-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01821.x
  • [2]Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European journal of clinical nutrition67(8), 789-96.
  • [3]Ketogenic Diet. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet
  • [4]McKenzie, Y., Bowyer, R., Leach, H., Gulia, P., Horobin, J., & O’Sullivan, N. et al. (2016). British Dietetic Association systematic review and evidence-based practice guidelines for the dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome in adults (2016 update). Journal Of Human Nutrition And Dietetics29(5), 549-575. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12385
  • [5]The role of dietary fat in IBS symptoms. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/does-fat-play-role-in-management-of-ibs/
  • [6]How the Absorption of Fat Differs From That of Carbohydrates. (2019). Retrieved from https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/absorption-fat-differs-carbohydrates-9041.html
  • [7]Carbohydrates: Yes? No? Friend? Foe? – Nancy Clark RD. (2019). Retrieved from http://blog.nancyclarkrd.com/2017/01/12/carbohydrates-yes-no-friend-foe/
  • [8]Cause of gastro-intestinal problems in athletes | Jeukendrup – Trusted sports nutrition advice & exercise science news. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.mysportscience.com/single-post/2016/1/20/Cause-of-gastrointestinal-problems-in-athletes
  • [9]What is activated charcoal and is it safe?. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-activated-charcoal-and-it-safe
  • [10]Won, C. S., Oberlies, N. H., & Paine, M. F. (2010). Influence of dietary substances on intestinal drug metabolism and transport. Current drug metabolism11(9), 778-92.
  • [11]Functional GI Disorders | Learn About Brain-Gut Interaction & Your Digestion – IFFGD. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.iffgd.org/functional-gi-disorders.html
  • [12]Activated Charcoal: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-269/activated-charcoal
  • [13]Why Is Everyone Drinking Celery Juice Right Now?. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.flare.com/health/celery-juice/
  • [14]Is Celery Juice Good For IBS? (2019). BDA Freelance Dietitians Group. Retrieved from https://freelancedietitians.org/dietitian-blog-posts/is-celery-juice-good-for-ibs/
  • [15]Jakovljevic, V., Raskovic, A., Popovic, M., & Sabo, J. (2002). The effect of celery and parsley juices on pharmacodynamic activity of drugs involving cytochrome P450 in their metabolism. European Journal Of Drug Metabolism And Pharmacokinetics27(3), 153-156. doi: 10.1007/bf03190450
  • [16]Celery Effectiveness, Safety, and Drug Interactions on RxList. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/celery/supplements.htm
  • [17]Hashemi, S., Madani, S., & Abediankenari, S. (2015). The Review on Properties of Aloe Vera in Healing of Cutaneous Wounds. Biomed Research International2015, 1-6. doi: 10.1155/2015/714216
  • [18]DAVIS, K., PHILPOTT, S., KUMAR, D., & MENDALL, M. (2006). Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial of aloe vera for irritable bowel syndrome. International Journal Of Clinical Practice60(9), 1080-1086. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2006.00980.x
  • [19]Hutchings, H., Wareham, K., Baxter, J., Atherton, P., Kingham, J., & Duane, P. et al. (2011). A Randomised, Cross-Over, Placebo-Controlled Study of Aloe vera in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Effects on Patient Quality of Life. ISRN Gastroenterology2011, 1-8. doi: 10.5402/2011/206103
  • [20]Karen Gill, M. (2019). Aloe vera juice for irritable bowel syndrome: Benefits and side effects. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320532.php
  • [21]Bone Broth Analysis: Reader Research | alive. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.alive.com/health/bone-broth-analysis-reader-research/
  • [22]NPR Choice page. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/02/10/384948585/taking-stock-of-bone-broth-sorry-no-cure-all-here?t=1549909433046
  • [23]Ask the Expert: What’s the Deal With Bone Broth? – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0516p10.shtml
  • [24]Bone Broth – Is It Good For Digestive Health? – Dietitian Advice (2019) Freelance Dietitians Group. Retrieved from https://freelancedietitians.org/dietitian-blog-posts/bone-broth-is-it-good-for-digestive-health-dietitian-advice/
  • [25]Monro, J., Leon, R., & Puri, B. (2013). The risk of lead contamination in bone broth diets. Medical Hypotheses80(4), 389-390. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2012.12.026

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