Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with its key features of abdominal pain and disturbed bowel habit, is thought by both patients and clinicians to be strongly influenced by diet. However, the complexities of diet have made identifying specific food intolerances difficult. Eating disorders can masquerade as IBS and may need specialist treatment. While typical food allergy is readily distinguished from IBS, the mechanisms of gut-specific adverse reactions to food are only just being defined. These may include gut-specific mast cell activation as well as non-specific activation by stressors and certain foods. Visceral hypersensitivity, in some cases mediated by mast cell activation, plays a key part in making otherwise innocuous gut stimuli painful. Rapidly fermented poorly absorbed carbohydrates produce gaseous distension as well as short-chain fatty acids and lowering of colonic pH which may cause symptoms in IBS patients. Limiting intake of these in low FODMAP and related diets has proven popular and apparently successful in many patients. Existing diet, colonic microbiota and their metabolic products may be helpful in predicting who will respond. Wheat intolerance may reflect the fact that wheat is often a major source of dietary FODMAPs. It may also be either a forme fruste of coeliac disease or non-specific immune activation. Wheat exclusion can be successful in some of these patients. More research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms of food intolerances and how to best ameliorate them in a personalised medicine approach to diet in IBS.
Keywords: FODMAP; allergy; diet; fibre; irritable bowel syndrome.