The idea that ‘food is medicine’ has been more prominent in mainstream media, leading to the creation of diets designed to improve many aspects of our physical health. Maybe you have heard of the FODMAP diet, but you have questions about what this means, who this type of diet can be beneficial for and how this intersects with brain health. In this article, we will provide an overview on FODMAPs and the implications on women’s brain health.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di- Monosaccharides, and Polyols. FODMAPs are a type of short-chain carbohydrate (sugar) with a strong link to gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and constipation in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These types of sugars are not completely digested in our gastrointestinal tract – instead, they attract water and are fermented by our gut bacteria. This leads to the production of gas, causing the intestinal wall to stretch as a result.
In individuals with a highly sensitive GI tract, this can precipitate the symptoms of their abdominal discomfort. Oligo-, di- and monosaccharides are found in many common foods, including wheat, legumes, dairy products, and garlic. Polyols, like sorbitol and mannitol, can be used as artificial sweeteners but are also found in some fruits and vegetables. A low FODMAP diet involves the replacement of foods high in these sugar types with alternate options that have a low burden of short chain carbohydrates.
The FODMAP diet is not for everyone though. Rather, it is intended to benefit individuals with medically diagnosed IBS. This diet has been shown to reduce the frequency of distressing abdominal symptoms and improve the quality of life amongst those with this condition.
Interestingly, one of our superfoods of the month, red peppers, have no FODMAPs. Unlike their close cousin, green peppers, which are rich in FODMAPs, red peppers are an optimal vegetable to include in a low FODMAP diet. Recognizing the rich connection between the gut and the brain – a 2021 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology by a team out of Zurich, Switzerland sought to understand the relationship between a low FODMAP diet and disorders of the gut-brain axis.
One hundred and ten patients with conditions thought to be under the umbrella of ‘disorders of the gut-brain axis’, like functional dyspepsia and IBS, received a low FODMAP diet and were monitored for their response. As expected, a low FODMAP diet resulted in significant reductions in the abdominal symptoms amongst included patients. Additionally, by using advanced metrics like monitoring the speed of digestion and amount of intestinal fermentation, the team was able to identify a subset of patients with gut-brain axis disorders that would be most likely to benefit from restrictive low FODMAP diets as a therapeutic approach.