Although IBS can affect people of any age, some weeks it does seem as though I see more middle-aged and older patients in my practice than I might expect. What are the diet-related factors that might cause more gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation in older folks?
- Lactose intolerance is rare in young children, but common in older teens and adults.
- Some patients are trying to be responsible adults and eat more healthfully. This might result in increased intake of FODMAP carbohydrates and result in symptoms. (Luckily you can use the IBSFree diet in my book to figure out which healthy foods you can tolerate well).
- Older adults are more likely to have diabetes, or have friends or family members with diabetes; sugar-free candies are popular with this crowd, and they often contain large amounts of sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and maltitol are well known laxatives. Metformin, an oral diabetes medication, decreases sugar absorption, which can worsen IBS symptoms for some people.
- Conditions such as diverticulitis and c. difficile infection are more common in older individuals. The strong antibiotics that are prescribed for these conditions sometimes leave functional GI symptoms in their wake.
IBS related to most of the above age-related factors may respond well to changes in diet, including FODMAP elimination and, later, using probiotics to maintain gut health.