This Valentine’s Day, Don’t Let Sugary Treats Trigger Your IBS

Valentine’s day is synonymous with copious amounts of sugary treats. While delicious, what really happens when we consume sugar in large quantities? Binging on these tasty treats once a year won’t cause much more than a temporary spike in blood sugar and a bellyache for most of us. Eating too many sweets can have serious repercussions, however, for people living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS is a common disorder that affects the GI tract. Symptoms can be exacerbated by sugar and include abdominal pain, cramps, alternating diarrhea and constipation, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. Studies suggest that people with IBS have a particularly low tolerance for sugar, which can cause higher levels of inflammation of the gut lining, potentially disrupting the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Sugar can also feed some of the harmful bacteria in your gut, leading to changes in the composition of the gut microbiome.

The gut microbiome (the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses living in and on you) functions like an alien organ inside the body. Scientists think it may influence everything from hormone production and immune function to sleep regulation, mood, and appetite. What’s more, recent research shows that the microbes in your gut may also influence your mood. Imbalances have been linked to depression, insomnia, and impaired short-term and long-term memory.

If you’re living with IBS, keeping your gut microbiota in balance is crucial. Below are a few simple tips that may help maintain a healthy gut while keeping that sweet tooth satisfied.


No sugar ever?

In an ideal world, it’s a good idea to steer clear of added sugar entirely, as eating excess sugar is linked to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and prediabetes, increased risk of heart disease, and several other significant health risks.

This can be really difficult, especially during a holiday! Enjoying sugar only in moderation can be an easier — and still beneficial — option.


Focus on the other things you eat!

The worst sugar cravings can often be improved by focusing on the whole diet. Filling your day with low glycemic meals consisting of adequate amounts of lean protein, healthy monounsaturated fats, and unprocessed sweet treats, like fiber-rich berries, may help to slash that desire to leave a trail of candy wrappers in your wake.

You can also try spicing up your diet; a study in Denmark found that when people added a half of a teaspoon of red pepper to their lunch, they had less of a craving to eat sugar. Meanwhile, another study found that taking cinnamon supplements decreased blood sugar levels of some people with Type II diabetes.

Always check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your normal diet, supplements, or lifestyle.


Be wary of artificial sweeteners.

Reaching for a sugar substitute may seem like a great alternative. It turns out that polyols, which are sugar alcohols found in various fruits, vegetables, and sugar-free sweeteners, may actually cause negative intestinal issues for people with IBS, including discomfort, gas and even laxative effects.


Probiotics may help.

Some types of bacteria in the gut are better for our health than others.

For example, there is some evidence that Lactobacillus, which humans have used in fermented foods for millennia, may help battle pathogens. In addition, people with IBS often have lower amounts of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and higher levels of harmful strains of Streptococcus in their guts.

While more research and placebo-controlled studies need to be conducted, some research has linked improvements in IBS symptoms with the use of probiotics — supplements containing Lactobacillus and other beneficial bacteria. Eating probiotics may help alleviate discomfort by reducing the number of harmful bacteria in the gut.

Although it can be tough to avoid eating candy during the holiday of love, eating sugar in moderation, balancing it with a diet of unprocessed foods, and, perhaps, taking a probiotic may help keep the worst of your IBS symptoms at bay.