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Experts say irritable bowel syndrome can be difficult to diagnose. FG Trade/Getty Images
  • The exact causes of irritable bowel disease (IBS) aren’t really known.
  • However, a researcher says gravity may be a factor as it can pull down on internal body organs.
  • Experts say IBS can be difficult to diagnose, but certain diets and stress management techniques can be helpful.

Gravity is one possible cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to Dr. Brennan Spiegel, the director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

His report, published today in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, describes how our bodies, including the intestines, spine, heart, nerves, and brain, have evolved to manage gravity’s pull on our internal systems.

Scientists do not yet understand why or how IBS develops, although it is the mostcommon gastrointestinal disorder.

In his report, Spiegel says that if some people’s internal organs cannot manage the drag of gravity, various symptoms can develop, including pain, cramping, lightheadedness, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and back issues. According to Spiegel, it might also contribute to bacteria overgrowth in the gut.

Spiegel’s report outlines several theories on the cause of IBS, including:

  • It is a gut-brain disorder, reinforced by the knowledge that neuromodulators and behavioral therapies can sometimes treat IBS.
  • Abnormalities in the gut microbiome contribute to developing IBS, reinforced by the knowledge that antibiotics or low-fermentable diets can help manage the condition.
  • Other possible causes might include abnormalities in muscle contractions in the gut when digesting foods, gut hypersensitivity, abnormal serotonin levels, or a dysregulated nervous system.

Spiegel adds that the effect of gravity on the musculoskeletal system could also play a role.

He says abdominal contents can be heavy and some bodies can carry this load easier than others. Weak muscles can cause the intestines to droop or spinal issues can cause the diaphragm to sag, leading to a compressed abdomen.

These factors could trigger motility issues or bacterial overgrowth in the gut.

Problems with the musculoskeletal system could help explain why exercise and physical therapy provide relief when treating IBS.

Spiegel points out that the butterflies you feel when you are nervous are the same feeling you get when going downhill on a roller coaster or during turbulence on a plane.

These feelings could be gravity-force detectors to let us know when we are experiencing or about to experience a dangerous drop. IBS could be more common in people prone to overpredicting gravity-force threats.

Serotonin could also play a role. When these neurotransmitter levels are abnormal, it can cause anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and IBS.

“These could be forms of gravity intolerance,” Spiegel writes.

IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. About 60 to 65 percent of those affected are female.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, IBS can cause gastrointestinal symptoms including:

  • Pain and cramping in your abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

People with IBS often have significant pain and discomfort without any damage or visible signs of disease in the digestive tract.

“IBS affects a person’s quality of life but doesn’t seem to shorten their lifespan,” said Inna Melamed, PharmD, a functional medicine practitioner specializing in the gut and hormones and the author of “Crohn’s and Colitis Fix and Digestive Reset.”

She says diagnosing IBS is often a matter of eliminating other conditions.

“There’s no specific test for IBS. A gastroenterologist assesses a patient based on symptoms and blood work to rule out more severe conditions like Crohn’s and colitis and Celiac disease,” Melamed told Healthline. “There are some diagnostics used for criteria of IBS, such as the frequency and severity of symptoms.”

“The doctor also classifies the type of IBS, for example, with predominantly diarrhea (IBS-D} or constipation (IBS-C),” she added. “Some people go back and forth between the two, making it impossible to classify with just one type. Other tests done to rule out other conditions include colonoscopy, CT scan, endoscopy, breath test, food intolerance test, and stool test.”

Doctors use a variety of therapies to relieve symptoms, including:

  • Dietary changes, such as increasing fiber, avoiding gluten, or following the FODMAP diet
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medicine
  • Probiotics
  • Mental health therapies

It sometimes takes a period of trial and error to find what works best.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for IBS, but a low FODMAP often helps. Some people also have specific food sensitivities or intolerance, for example, wheat/gluten or dairy, and eliminating those foods is the first step,” says Anne Danahy, RD, a registered dietician in Arizona and owner of Craving Something Healthy.

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. The small intestine absorbs these poorly, which can cause intestinal cramping, diarrhea, constipation, stomach bloating, gas, and flatulence.

“I have a client do some detective work before eliminating anything because the list of trigger foods is broad,” Danahy told Healthline. “I recommend keeping a food/symptom journal for a week or two to identify bothersome foods. High FODMAP fruits and vegetables, legumes, dairy, wheat-based grains, and sugar-alcohol sweeteners often trigger IBS symptoms.”

“While a low FODMAP diet is helpful, it’s not meant to be a long-term solution,” Danahy added. “It’s important to work with a nutritionist specializing in IBS or digestive issues. They can help the person identify their FODMAP threshold so they can add small amounts of higher FODMAP foods back to the diet. Many higher FODMAP foods are excellent sources of prebiotic fiber, which helps feed beneficial bacteria in the gut.”

Low FODMAP foods include:

  • Eggs and meat
  • Certain cheeses, such as brie, Camembert, cheddar, and feta
  • Almond milk
  • Grains like rice, quinoa, and oats
  • Vegetables like eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini
  • Fruits such as grapes, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple

High FODMAP foods include:

  • Dairy-based milk, yogurt, and ice cream
  • Wheat-based products such as cereal, bread, and crackers
  • Beans and lentils
  • Some vegetables, such as artichokes, asparagus, onions, and garlic
  • Some fruits, such as apples, cherries, pears, and peaches

Experts note that IBS is a long-term, chronic condition. When receiving treatment for IBS, it is essential to remember that diet or stress do not cause it.

However, changing your diet or practicing stress management techniques could provide some relief.