The low-fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharide and polyol (FODMAP) diet is a 2-phased intervention, with strict reduction of all slowly absorbed or indigestible short-chain carbohydrates (ie, FODMAPs) followed by reintroduction of specific FODMAPs according to tolerance. The efficacy of the elimination phase of the FODMAP diet is well established, but the success of maintaining this diet has been shown in only a few observational studies. How the efficacy of the low-FODMAP diet compares with that of other therapies has received limited attention, but recent studies have shown this diet to be comparable or superior to diets that address eating style and choice of food as well as to gut hypnotherapy. There has been no comparison between the low-FODMAP diet and the gluten-free diet, which moderately reduces FODMAP intake. Mechanistically, dietary FODMAPs have very limited effects on the consistency of bowel actions but seem to suppress the release of histamine. Neither symptom pattern nor breath hydrogen testing for fructose or polyol malabsorption is a useful predictor of efficacy, but analysis of gut microbiota has potential. As a restrictive diet, the low-FODMAP diet carries risks of nutritional inadequacy and of fostering disordered eating, which has received little attention. Strict FODMAP restriction induces a potentially unfavorable gut microbiota, although the impact of this consequence upon health is unknown. This observation puts additional impetus on the reintroduction of FODMAPs according to tolerance during the maintenance phase of the diet. Studies of the low-FODMAP diet in children are few but do suggest benefit. However, such a strategy should be implemented with care due to the psychological and nutritional risks of a restrictive diet. Clinical wisdom is required in utilizing the low-FODMAP diet.
Keywords: Irritable bowel syndrome; breath hydrogen testing; disordered eating; fructans; fructose; galacto-oligosaccharides; polyols.