Self-reported food-related gastrointestinal symptoms in IBS are common and associated with more severe symptoms and reduced quality of life

Am J Gastroenterol. 2013 May;108(5):634-41. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2013.105.


Objectives: Despite the fact that food and diet are central issues, that concern patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the current understanding about the association between the intake of certain foods/food groups and the gastrointestinal (GI) symptom pattern, psychological symptoms, and quality of life is poor. The aim of this study was to determine which food groups and specific food items IBS patients report causing GI symptoms, and to investigate the association with GI and psychological symptoms and quality of life.

Methods: We included 197 IBS patients (mean age 35 (18-72) years; 142 female subjects) who completed a food questionnaire in which they specified symptoms from 56 different food items or food groups relevant to food intolerance/allergy. The patients also completed questionnaires to assess depression and general anxiety (Hospital Anxiety and Depression), GI-specific anxiety (Visceral Sensitivity Index), IBS symptoms (IBS-Severity Scoring System), somatic symptoms (Patient Health Questionnaire-15), and quality of life (Irritable Bowel Syndrome Quality of Life Questionnaire).

Results: In all, 84% of the studied population reported symptoms related to at least one of the food items surveyed. Symptoms related to intake of food items with incompletely absorbed carbohydrates were noted in 138 (70%) patients; the most common were dairy products (49%), beans/lentils (36%), apple (28%), flour (24%), and plum (23%). Of these, 58% experienced GI symptoms from foods rich in biogenic amines, such as wine/beer (31%), salami (22%), and cheese (20%). Histamine-releasing foods, such as milk (43%), wine/beer (31%), and pork (21%), were also considered causes of symptoms in IBS patients. GI symptoms were also frequently reported after intake of fried and fatty foods (52%). With increasing IBS symptom severity, patients reported more food items responsible for their GI symptoms (P=0.004), and this was also found in patients with more severe somatic symptoms (P<0.0001). Women tended to report more food items causing symptoms than men (P=0.06). A high number of food items causing GI symptoms was also associated with reduced quality of life and this was significant for the following domains: sleep (r=-0.25; P=0.001), energy (r=-0.21; P=0.005), food (r=-0.29; P<0.001), social functioning (r=-0.23; P=0.001), and physical status (r=-0.16; P<0.05). However, the number of food items reported to provoke GI symptoms was unrelated to body mass index, age, IBS subtype, anxiety, depression, or GI-specific anxiety.

Conclusions: The majority of IBS patients believe that certain food items are important triggers of their GI symptoms. This is especially true for foods containing carbohydrates and fat, and also may be relevant for histamine-releasing food items and foods rich in biogenic amines. Self-reported food intolerance is associated with high symptom burden and reduced quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Biogenic Amines / adverse effects
  • Depression / etiology
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / adverse effects
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects
  • Eating*
  • Female
  • Food / adverse effects*
  • Histamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / complications*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life*
  • Self Report*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Biogenic Amines
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Histamine