About 5%-20% of the population is diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome - a syndrome that is an umbrella term for a series of symptoms in the digestive system such as chronic diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and more. The symptoms can manifest differently in different people, and in varying levels of severity.
Dr. Yishai Ron, director of the service for neuro-gastroenterology and gastrointestinal motility at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, explained how to recognize sensitive bowel syndrome - and how to live with it.
Dr. Ron explained that the syndrome is not a disease in itself but a collection of disturbing symptoms for the patient.
"When the main symptom is abdominal pain, which can be accompanied by swelling in the abdomen, and mainly - disturbances in the output, from constipation to diarrhea, and sometimes even a combination of the two phenomena," he told the Walla Expert Clinic podcast.
Why is this happening?
Dr. Ron added that in many cases it is not clear what causes the phenomenon since "the syndrome itself is multifactorial - there are many factors that are taken into account, starting with internal factors, which are genetic, and mainly environmental factors, which include personality structure (people with a tendency to have anxiety and/or depression), previous infections in the digestive system, a change in the microbiome or those who suffer from sensitive intestines have a different composition of bacteria than healthy people."
People who suffer from sensitive bowels have periods of flare-ups and periods of remission when external stressors can cause an outbreak of abdominal pain.
"There are many factors that are taken into account, starting with internal factors, which are genetic, and mainly environmental factors."Dr. Ron
"This is very dangerous to the quality of life. There are studies that show that the syndrome does not change life expectancy even by a minute, but it severely affects the daily quality of life, to the point of dysfunction. We see students who have stopped studying because they are unable to attend classes, especially during exam periods when the stress is very high. We know that people leave jobs, especially jobs that are associated with a lot of stress," said Dr. Ron.
He added that for him, "the syndrome becomes a real disease when it disrupts the daily routine of the person who has to go to work, study or any other commitment."
"Almost 85% of patients associate the symptoms with food, and this is a very disturbing issue, especially in the Western world," said Dr. Ron. "We are talking about poor nutritional behavior in many of the patients, all kinds of rituals and beliefs, including the influence of the media."
So what should you eat? The most well-known nutritional treatment in the context of irritable bowel syndrome is a diet referred to as FODMAP. Each letter symbolizes a carbohydrate rich in fructose molecules, which makes it difficult for the intestine to function and contributes to the development of bacteria inside it.
"We put some of the patients on this diet for 6 weeks from the same FODMAP components and see the results," said Dr. Ron, but emphasized that "from [his] insight as a doctor, we are omnivores - creatures that can also eat meat and mainly consume fruits and vegetables.
"In fact, the healthiest diet in the world is the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in bread, fruits and vegetables, and a little meat, mainly in the form of fish, and of course olive oil as well - things that are considered a healthy diet in the world.
"Still, it is important to emphasize that nutrition is not everything and that hypersensitivity of the digestive system can cause pain, even when eating healthy, so if you suffer from your digestive system - it is important to seek clarification. We don't pretend that we can cure it, but we can make it significantly easier so that the syndrome will become a kind of shadow that walks alongside the patient, and will not actually become a disease."