Fermentable carbohydrate restriction reduces luminal bifidobacteria and gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome

J Nutr. 2012 Aug;142(8):1510-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.159285. Epub 2012 Jun 27.


Preliminary studies indicate that dietary restriction of fermentable short-chain carbohydrates improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Prebiotic fructo-oligosaccharides and galacto-oligosaccharides stimulate colonic bifidobacteria. However, the effect of restricting fermentable short-chain carbohydrates on the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiota has never been examined. This randomized controlled trial aimed to investigate the effects of fermentable carbohydrate restriction on luminal microbiota, SCFA, and GI symptoms in patients with IBS. Patients with IBS were randomized to the intervention diet or habitual diet for 4 wk. The incidence and severity of symptoms and stool output were recorded for 7 d at baseline and follow-up. A stool sample was collected and analyzed for bacterial groups using fluorescent in situ hybridization. Of 41 patients randomized, 6 were withdrawn. At follow-up, there was lower intake of total short-chain fermentable carbohydrates in the intervention group compared with controls (P = 0.001). The total luminal bacteria at follow-up did not differ between groups; however, there were lower concentrations (P < 0.001) and proportions (P < 0.001) of bifidobacteria in the intervention group compared with controls when adjusted for baseline. In the intention-to-treat analysis, more patients in the intervention group reported adequate control of symptoms (13/19, 68%) compared with controls (5/22, 23%; P = 0.005). This randomized controlled trial demonstrated a reduction in concentration and proportion of luminal bifidobacteria after 4 wk of fermentable carbohydrate restriction. Although the intervention was effective in managing IBS symptoms, the implications of its effect on the GI microbiota are still to be determined.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bifidobacterium / drug effects*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Fermentation
  • Food Analysis
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diet therapy*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids