IBS vs intolerances: what’s the difference?

solution for food intolerance

Digestive issues are common in the U.S. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, as many as 70 million people are affected by all digestive diseases.

There are many severe digestive concerns that must receive medical care. However, there are two common issues that are less severe and thus, often overlooked — and even confused with one another.

We’re talking about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and food intolerances. Neither of these conditions is life-threatening, which is a large part of why they are under-addressed and often misunderstood.

Let’s define both IBS and food intolerances and then take a look at how the two digestive issues are different from one another.

what is a food intolerance?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a food intolerance affects the digestive system. It defines the condition by simply saying, “People who suffer from an intolerance, or sensitivity, can’t break down certain foods.”

This comes from a lack or absence of digestive enzymes. The body naturally creates a variety of these enzymes to break down food that is ingested. If there is a lack of certain enzymes, it can result in an intolerance. This, in turn, leads to symptoms due to food fermenting as it slowly digests in the intestines.

This seemingly innocuous issue can lead to multiple discomforting side effects, including heartburn, nausea, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even headaches.

what is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is notoriously difficult to diagnose. However, that doesn’t make it a “catch-all” diagnosis reserved for those who can’t figure out what digestive issue they’re dealing with. IBS consists of symptoms that are clearly defined and referred to as the Rome criteria.

IBS can be caused by a variety of issues. It typically involves a disturbance of the function of the gastrointestinal tract. This includes intestinal movement, which can disturb your digestion and make your intestines react more sensitively to food. The result can include various symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and gas — most of which are similar to a food intolerance.

While difficult to understand, IBS is not a serious health concern. Many practitioners go to great lengths to reassure those suffering from IBS that it does not create changes in bowel tissue. It also doesn’t increase the risk of cancer.

Nevertheless, IBS is a very uncomfortable dietary condition that can significantly impact daily life.

where food intolerances and IBS overlap

While not synonymous, IBS and food intolerances are very similar. Often IBS involves the presence of one or even multiple food intolerances. FODMAPs — that is, certain foods prone to fermenting — are a common cause of many IBS symptoms. They also can lead to food sensitivities.

Do you have any questions about how to deal with a food intolerance or PDS? Feel free to contact one of our Intoleran dietitians, they will be happy to help you.

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