Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Going gluten-free means avoiding all of these foods, which are commonly found in everyday foods such as bread and pasta, as well as sauces and many processed foods. A gluten-free diet is not the same as a wheat-free diet, where wheat alone must be excluded, but the gluten-containing barley and rye can still be eaten freely.
When someone has celiac disease the lining of their intestine is actually damaged by gluten, but their symptoms should disappear on a gluten-free diet. People with IBS who find that gluten can be a trigger will not be damaging the lining of their intestine if they eat gluten, just exacerbating their symptoms.
Oats are somewhat controversial on a gluten-free diet, because some people who have celiac disease seem to be able to eat them without symptoms, and others do not. Oats do contain a protein which is similar to gluten, which may cause the problem, or it could be that oats are often processed in a factory alongside wheat and other gluten-containing foods, and so become contaminated with small amounts of gluten.
Patients avoid all wheat, barley and rye (and sometimes oats as well), but they must also take care to avoid gluten in a wide range of other foods. Some food items which may contain gluten include: soups, sausages, processed meats such as slices of ham, ready meals, crisps and potato chips. Some people find that they can eat small amounts of gluten without any problems, and so would not need to worry about things such as potato chips which would probably only use gluten in the flavorings.
Totally eliminating gluten from the diet is not easy, and it does require vigilance to make sure that gluten does not sneak into the diet. However, many patients do benefit from a gluten-free diet and so it can be worth the effort. These days there are a wide variety of specially-made gluten-free foods including breads, cakes and pasta. These are often more expensive than their gluten-filled equivalents and may not taste quite the same, but they can still be useful. You can also buy gluten-free flour to bake with.
REVIEWS OF A GLUTEN-FREE DIET
Review by Ernestine
I was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago. I was diagnosed with IBS-D four years ago. So after battling each disease against the other (what you eat to calm IBS is bad for diabetes; what you eat to help diabetes triggers IBS) two weeks ago my dietician recommended going gluten-free for two weeks. Well it has been 16 days and here are my results. Day two: no IBS flare-ups, going well. Day five: blood glucose is between 88 and 149 which is nothing short of a miracle as my blood sugars were running 220-425 for over a year.
Today is day 16. I've only had one minor IBS flare-up and honestly it may have been some hidden gluten that I didn't realize was in something. I don't feel like a truck hit me every morning and have to keep snoozing the alarm. I feel more alert from my blood sugars being in a normal range. I have been taken off my short acting insulin and I am only on my long acting insulin. I have only taken two IBS pills in 16 days when I was taking two to four per day. I feel like I just got four years of my life back.
Review by Michelle
My name is Michelle...and I have had IBS my whole life. I just discovered what was really going on with me seven months ago. I have had some major attacks that sent me to the hospital thinking I was having a gallbladder attack. After blood work, stool samples, ultrasounds, Hida scan and cat scans I got the 'You have IBS'. Four doctors later that did not impress me. I have found a small amount of relief from the Fodmap diet, probiotics, Beano, calcium and vitamin D, plus a dairy- and gluten-free diet.
It took seven months of pain, running to the bathroom, sweats, diarrhea and constipation to have two whole weeks of no symptoms. Of course they have all returned now, but I seem to be handling them a little better. At least now I know that I will not die and if I wait it out and rest with a heating pad things do calm down in a few hours.
I have taken all your advice and created an emergency kit for work and car rides. I read Sophie's book which was a great help and I will continue to refer to it. My plan is to continue on the gluten-free/Fodmap diet and continue with the OTC drugs. Wishing all of you a cure...
Review by April
I was diagnosed with IBS in my early teens. The abdominal pain, cramps and bloating were terrible. I have been rushed to hospital with suspected appendicitis on two occasions. I used to joke about it, saying I can go from nought to nine months in 30 seconds. Like a lot of others I missed so many days and nights out because of it.
Last year when I was 41 I had reached the end of my tether. I went to the doctor and he did lots of test which came back negative. I was very disappointed but took it upon myself to start a gluten-free diet. I have been on this diet for approximately six months now and what a difference it has made. I also had a colonic irrigation in November 2011 and I feel so much better. No more bloating or cramps unless I lapse in my dietary diligence. I would recommend this diet to anyone who has been diagnosed with IBS.
Review by Maureen
I have been suffering with IBS-D for 25 years, and if I think back the start of my IBS was probably in my early 20s. I've missed many parties and events, I've been out of work, and I had to leave work all because of IBS. It was ruling and ruining my life! I could not go out out to dinner unless the restaurant was 15 minutes from my house and I would rush my husband to finish his meal so we could get home, just in case!
Finally, last year I couldn't take the attacks anymore. They were happening every week for three hours, and then I needed another day to recover. I wanted to feel like a normal person and just go food shopping without trying to figure out if I had at least an hour. After doing a lot of research, and talking to friends and doctors who thought I was crazy, I decided to try eating gluten-free.
I was not celiac, but I thought that maybe I was gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive. I realized I was surviving on plain pasta, toast, and crackers, all gluten! And I was making myself sick. Gluten is an irritant to the GI system and it is tied to IBS in everything I read. I figured what do I have to lose?
It took about a month before I slowly noticed a small difference. Then I stopped thinking about it and after six months I noticed I had only had one small episode, but the daily cramping and overall 'I don't feel well today' feeling was going away. My doctor said that if it is working, stick with it. But you have to be diligent. No cheating.
I am approaching my one-year gluten-free anniversary and I can honestly say I feel better. I haven't tried the restaurant part yet, but I can go out to the store, even for a ride, and not have to worry about bathrooms. I know gluten-free products are expensive, but if you do your research you can eat better, and healthier, as everything has to be fresh. Check your labels as gluten is hidden in so many products today. You have nothing to lose.
Review by Jamie
I have suffered with IBS for a long time now. I tried high fiber diets and they didn't really work. Then my doctor told me to try gluten-free instead. It was expensive at first because we were making everything from scratch, but it really worked. I was on it for a month or more and I felt really good. I had no stomach issues, heartburn, etc. Then I met someone and moved, and I went off the diet for a while and thought it was too expensive.
Just recently I have started back on a gluten-free diet, and in just two days I'm feeling good again. I also take a probiotic (acidophilus) which works as well. I'm really trying my best to stick with this. My stomach does much better on it.
Review by Kathy
I was diagnosed with IBS in the late seventies when I was in my late twenties and it's been extremely difficult to live with...but I am so pleased to say that since going gluten-free a little over a year ago I rarely have any discomfort. I can sit through meetings, concerts, church etc without worrying about having to run to the bathroom. It is so good to finally feel like 'normal' people do. It is a discipline and I have had a few episodes where I've accidentally eaten the wrong thing, like this past weekend...boy did I pay for it! But all in all it has been life-changing for me. Oh, and taking a good probiotic each day is also very helpful.
Review by Angel
I've been on a gluten-free trial for about a few weeks now. I haven't really been 100% gluten-free to be honest, since realizing that soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce have gluten (dang)...and probably other things I wasn't aware of. I switched to eating only veggies and fruits (not processed) and poultry. I've been scared off fish due to mercury issues, and poultry is just cheap. I have felt much better, but not perfect.
I have also found that my severe food cravings have diminished quite a bit. I've lost a bunch of weight while eating better than ever. I cut out all sodas and juices at the same time, however, so I really went the whole hog. I was thinking the 'bubbles' from the soda could also have been wreaking havoc, since air bubbles don't do anything but multiply exponentially in my system.
So far, I haven't had an episode (mine usually result in me sitting on the toilet hunched over pounding the heck out of my feet to distract myself from the absolute agony of my intestines - it actually works by the way - sharper pain you self-inflict is easier to handle - go figure). I haven't yet passed out on the toilet (come very close though) and it takes a lot for me to throw up.
Review by Rose
I have been gluten- and dairy-free since 2000, and before that date I was an IBS sufferer. For the first time in nearly 10 years I have just suffered terrible piercing pains in my groin and buttocks area. It felt like I was giving birth (I am a mother of two so I know the sensation). The only thing I had eaten that was different from usual was something that I believed to be totally gluten- and dairy-free, and that's oats! I had to visit the doctors today for pain relief. I am going with the comments above that said oats could still give a reaction for some IBS sufferers even if they're gluten- and dairy-free followers.
Review by Ingrid
I was diagnosed with IBS in September. Prior to my diagnosis I had gone gluten-free for several weeks and the symptoms I had experienced went away. For the definitive diagnosis I had to undergo testing to rule out celiac disease which meant introducing gluten back into my diet. It was amazing how quickly my body negatively responded!
Since September I have been gluten-free again, though I gave myself permission to try something only to have my body tell me it was an unwise choice. Wheat is the biggest culprit for my symptoms, but I have chosen to eliminate all sources of gluten and I'm feeling like a new person.
Review by Stephanie
I have been suffering with severe stomach pain since I was about 11. I was told I was lactose intolerant. Then it hit even harder when I was 17, and I was told I had IBS. Nothing ever helped and the doctors didn't know what was going on. I had so many other symptoms come and go. One that surprised me was eczema. So they suggested a gluten allergy. For the past week I have gone gluten-free. I can not believe what a drastic change I have had. For the first time in years I have felt no pain. It is absolutely amazing. If only someone had told me about this years ago. I now feel comfortable eating outside my home.
Review by Kristin
I have suffered from severe constipation, gas, and bloating due to IBS since I was 17 (12 years now) and I have tried everything. Or so I thought. About a month ago, I tried to go gluten-free. I feel so much better!
Review by CJ
I have suffered for a year with chronic constipation, and just recently I stopped eating wheat and gluten. I saw a huge difference in just a few weeks. I am taking Dr Schultz's intestinal formula which also helps me, but I am not bloated and I feel a lot better. I did get tested for celiac disease and I don't have it, but I do know that avoiding wheat and gluten has made a difference!
Review by Dorothy
I have been taking Bentyl for many years and it has helped the pain of IBS considerably. However, a couple years ago I discovered that it was gluten intolerance that was causing the diarrhea. After stopping wheat, oats and barley, within a week I was 100% better.
Review by Wonder
I have had Crohn's Disease all my life (although it was only diagnosed 10 years ago) and I was lucky enough to be in a hospital where they tried me on an elimination diet, rather than whipping out most of my insides! It turns out that I was allergic to wheat and chocolate, so I have been following a wheat/gluten-free diet since then. I also find that cutting out dairy works well too.
However, over the last few months my symptoms all came back, the excruciating cramps etc, but this time instead of diarrhea it was constipation. I went to my specialist and guess what...I have IBS as well! I then came home and started looking up info about it and came across this site, and it has been great to read other peoples experiences etc. Good luck everyone, it's good to know there are more of you out there!
Review by Sharon
I have suffered from IBS for as long as I can remember - chronic cramps, wind, pain and an uncontrollable urge to go to the loo! I have found that the only way to control IBS is to use relaxation techniques (meditation and yoga) and also to adopt a gluten-free diet. Mintec has also assisted me, but I have to say that the best approach for me has been using the relaxation and diet.
These days I have very few attacks and no longer find that it is ruling my life as it used to. If I know that an event is coming up that may trigger an IBS episode I start my relaxation techniques in advance and ensure that I watch my diet the day before particularly. I am not convinced that medication is the answer to this complaint but can only share my story.
Review by Catherine
I have had IBS for about two years. I have been suffering from constipation, gas and bloating, and going on a gluten-free diet has helped a lot. By using rice flour and rice noodles I can have pretty much the same kinds of foods that I had before I went gluten-free, and I feel a lot better. More energy and not so tired and no bloating. I would recommend this diet to anyone who suffers from IBS.
Review by Avril
I've read the reviews on a gluten-free and wheat-free diet and would just like to add one thing. I do think it helps; I have suffered with IBS since I was about 20 (11 years ago now!) and over the last couple of years I have been basically gluten-free (with the odd mistake and 'Oh sod it' day!). I have not been symptom-free however; but I have also pinpointed a couple of other things which start me off, including tomatoes and any other acidic fruit (oranges are really bad too), and vinegar - not just malt vinegar but gluten-free ones like cider vinegar and white wine vinegar. Again, anything acidic.
I thought a gluten-free diet would be the end of it but it's not always. I would certainly say it helps and I still stick to it, but I also avoid the things listed above. I still have the bloating and the occasional bowel problems but nothing like I used to and again, I'm not as bad as some other sufferers I've read about.
Also, I just wanted to say thank-you to Sophie for running such a fabulous and worthwhile service. I have cried at times while reading other people's experiences because it helps when you're not alone. Everyone's messages help everyone else. Well done everyone! Keep it up!
Review by Sue
I have just been diagnosed with IBS but I have been on a gluten-free diet since December. What a difference it has made in my life. My symptoms are much less severe and now I just have to work out my other triggers. I have six gluten-free cookbooks and I made lots of gluten-free things for Christmas dinner (Brussel sprouts with rice bread crumbs, rice bread stuffing and pavlova) and they were eaten by everyone, even non-GF people, and everyone declared them to be delicious - and I went home for the first time without pain.
Review by Nicky
I have been on a gluten-free diet since the beginning of 2006. Before this I was limited in what I could do and IBS was beginning to take over my life. I worried about eating out as I nearly always had to come home early in pain. Anytime I ate more than usual the symptoms returned.
Since cutting out gluten I have been much, much better. I haven't had the pain since (however I am suffering from constipation but it is nothing in comparison to my old symptoms) and have eaten out a few times symptom free. This may not be the answer for everyone but it's certainly helped me so definitely worth a try.
Review by Sophie
A gluten-free diet is probably the thing that has helped me the most with my IBS. I have to say that it isn't easy - I have been halfway through a slice of ham when I've looked at the packet and seen wheat starch written on the side.
It definitely takes vigilance, but I really think that my symptoms have improved because of it. I do buy the gluten-free breads and cakes and after a few experiments you can find some pretty nice ones.