A study shows IBS may be the result of an allergic reaction

Some folks with IBS who just don’t trust doctors. They say that after multiple visits and a battery of tests, their physicians would dismiss painful GI symptoms and tell them that what they feel is not “real.”

Unfortunately, distrust of physicians is common. Only 34% of Americans trust their doctors, according to a study published in 2018 by Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research. To be fair, physicians base their decisions on clinical evidence and data before pinpointing a diagnosis. Hard-to-diagnose and hard-to-treat conditions like IBS make it more difficult for physicians to be accurate. But that could soon change.

In a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Marc Rothenberg, MD cites research from Belgium that pinpoints the reason why some people experience abdominal pain when they eat certain foods. Scientists in this study believed that pain, bloating, and other common symptoms may be the result of an allergic reaction to a specific food.

"Only 34% of Americans trust their doctors...."

In a previous study, the same scientists discovered that patients with IBS reported their first symptoms often began after a GI infection, like gastritis or food poisoning. Based on this insight, they theorized that perhaps specific food present in the gut at the time of infection might make the immune system sensitive to that food.

Researchers then focused on what could trigger the GI system to develop a sensitive reaction to food. They infected lab mice with a stomach bug and at the same time injected the gut area with a protein found in egg whites. Once the mice recovered from the infection, they again gave the mice the same protein. Interestingly, their immune system released histamines, causing intolerance and pain in the gut. The mice also had diarrhea and a slow transit time (the amount of time it takes for food to go through the large intestines). The immune response only occurred in the specific area of the intestines that had the infection, confirming that the body had reacted to the food.

The investigators then tested the theory with 12 IBS patients and eight individuals without IBS. The findings were similar to the mice study. When patients were injected with common allergens, every patient with IBS had a reaction to that specific allergen.

Based on this information, it appears that IBS, and other functional abdominal pain, may be a food-induced allergic disorder. Further studies and a large scale, clinical trial will be needed to confirm these studies. The researchers in the Belgium mice study indicated this is proof that IBS is a “real” disease and not just figment of the patient’s imagination.

“With these new insights, we provide further evidence that we are dealing with a real disease,” said lead investigator Guy Boeckxstaens in an interview with a medical publication.

Further studies will need to be done to see if researchers can block the activation of histamines which could lead to more efficient therapies.