Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine, causing bloating, abdominal pain, and ultimately diarrhea or constipation or both. It can also cause gas and cramping. The condition affects between 6% and 18% of people worldwide, according to Health Line.
In more severe cases, patients may lose weight, have difficulty swallowing, and experience rectal bleeding. Iron deficiency is also common.
Fortunately, only about 25% of IBS patients report severe symptoms. The majority only experience mild symptoms. Better still, though it’s a chronic condition, you can manage IBS long term by managing your lifestyle, diet, and stress levels.
Where Does a Vegan Diet Come In?
To better understand the link between IBS and veganism and why vegan is often mentioned when discussing IBS, you must first understand how a vegan diet works.
Veganism in its simplest form involves living exclusively on plant-obtained foods, i.e., fruits, vegetables, cereals, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and products derived from plants, including fresh juices.
Please don’t confuse it with vegetarianism. Although vegetarians also don’t eat animals, they can eat animal-derived products such as eggs from chicken and dairy products from cows. Vegans live exclusively on plants and plant-derived products. They don’t eat animals or any products derived from animals. So, milk, eggs, cheese, etc., are all out. Honey, seafood, and any other animal-derived ingredients or food additives are also off the table.
Veganism has grown a lot in popularity in recent years. If you’re in doubt, check the menu closely the next time you’re in a restaurant. In most cases, you’ll find a section dedicated exclusively to vegans. Indeed, according to research firm Global Data, veganism in the US has increased 600% in the last three years.
It’s only logical that people with IBS may also want to follow a vegan diet, if not for anything else, then to enjoy the new culture. A few also end up taking up vegan diets in search of a solution for their irritable bowel issues. Vegan diets are highly rich in fiber, anyway.
Unfortunately, vegan diets rarely work out well for IBS patients. A 2017 study whose findings have since been published to the US National Library of Medicine shows that veganism can worsen bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Additionally, vegan diets that leave out critical nutrients expose the patient to greater danger.
Pros and Cons of a Vegan Diet for IBS
For IBS patients pondering a cross-over to the vegan culture, assessing the benefits and potential drawbacks can help you make the right decision.
Vegan Diet for IBS Patients – 4 Pros
The following are a few reasons why patients with irritable bowel syndrome may want to adopt a vegan diet.
1. Richer in certain nutrients
Studies show that vegan diets are richer in fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds. Beans, vegetables, peas, nuts, and seeds are also richer in potassium, magnesium, folate, and Vitamins A, C, and E. IBS patients need these nutrients in significant quantities to remain healthy and fight some symptoms.
2. Improved blood sugar levels
People with irritable bowel syndrome are often advised to keep their blood sugar levels low as high insulin levels can worsen IBS. Diabetes can damage the nerves around the gut, leading to or worsening IBS symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation. Vegans tend to have lower blood sugar levels, higher insulin sensitivity, and up to 78% lower risk of diabetes.
3. Improved kidney function
IBS is also more common or worse in people with kidney issues. According to the National Library of Medicine, chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, including IBS, are common in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). The prevalence rate is as high as 70%. Indeed, between 11% and 44% of hemodialysis (HD) patients have irritable bowel syndrome. Substituting meat for plant protein reduces the risk of poor kidney function.
4. Lowers the risk of heart attack
Inflammatory bowel syndrome significantly increases the risk of a heart attack. A 2018 study by the American College of Cardiology shows that people with IBS are twice as likely to experience a heart attack. Eating fresh vegetables, fruits, fiber, and legumes considerably reduces the risk of heart disease.
Vegan Diet for IBS Patients – 2 Cons
Unfortunately, a vegan diet isn’t 100% safe for people with irritable bowel syndrome. The following are a few risks to keep in mind.
1. You may miss important nutrients
Critical nutrients such as iron, protein, and vitamin B12 aren’t readily available in exclusively plant-based foods. Since every healthy human needs these nutrients, you may need to speak to your dietician or medical professional for guidance.
2. A few symptoms may worsen
Many plant-based foods can worsen specific irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, including bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Before you switch to a vegan lifestyle, speak to your doctor and let them advise you accordingly. If you get the go-ahead, you may need to cook your foods differently to avoid adverse consequences. For instance, you may need to boil your legumes for longer and even rinse your beans before consumption.