3 healthy steps that lower risk of irritable bowel syndrome

🔑 Key Findings:

  • Engaging in more healthy habits lowers the risk of IBS
  • Older adults engaging in 3 to 5 healthy habits lowered their risk by 42%
  • The top habits were not smoking, being physically active, and getting good sleep

HONG KONG — Have you ever stopped to consider how your daily habits could be affecting your gut health? It turns out the way we live our lives has a profound impact on our digestive well-being. A new study brings to light a fascinating discovery: adopting a few healthy lifestyle habits could significantly lower the risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common digestive disorder that causes abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits.

IBS is more than just an occasional stomach upset; it’s a condition that affects up to 10 percent of the population worldwide. Despite its prevalence, the exact causes of IBS remain somewhat of a mystery. Researchers believe that a disordered gut-brain connection might be to blame for the distressing symptoms experienced by those with IBS. This new study delved deeper into this issue, exploring whether a combination of healthy lifestyle behaviors could help keep IBS at bay.

The researchers examined data from the UK Biobank, focusing on middle-aged participants who reported on their lifestyle habits. They zeroed in on five key behaviors:

  • Never smoking
  • Getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night
  • Engaging in vigorous physical activity
  • Eating a high-quality balanced diet
  • Moderating alcohol intake

Over the course of an average follow-up period of 12.5 years, the study monitored 64,286 individuals. During this time, 961 participants developed IBS. However, those who adhered to healthy lifestyle behaviors were significantly less likely to be among them.

The research revealed a striking pattern: the more healthy behaviors an individual engaged in, the lower their risk of IBS. Specifically, practicing one healthy behavior was associated with a 21-percent reduced risk, two behaviors with a 36-percent lower risk, and three to five behaviors with a 42-percent reduction in risk.

Interestingly, three particular behaviors stood out for their independent association with a lower risk of IBS: not smoking was linked to a 14-percent lower risk, a high level of physical activity led to a 17-percent reduction, and getting a good night’s sleep contributed to a 27-percent decrease in risk. These findings held true regardless of other factors such as age, sex, and family history of IBS.

Despite its strengths, the study does come with certain limitations. Its observational nature means it can’t prove cause and effect, and the reliance on self-reported data may introduce inaccuracies. Moreover, the research primarily involved older individuals, which might limit its applicability to younger IBS patients.

Gut microbiome and digestive system concept
The research revealed a striking pattern: the more healthy behaviors an individual engaged in, the lower their risk of IBS.  (© sdecoret – stock.adobe.com)

What does a pharmacist think?

Despite some limitations, the implications of this study for everyday life are clear and empowering. While lifestyle modification is often recommended for managing IBS symptoms, its potential role in preventing the onset of the condition has not received enough attention until now. This research underscores the value of making healthy lifestyle choices, not just for IBS prevention but for overall well-being.

In essence, this study offers a hopeful message: by embracing healthier habits, we can take proactive steps to protect our digestive health. Whether it’s choosing to be smoke-free, staying active, or prioritizing rest, each positive choice we make can have a meaningful impact.

The study was published in the journal Gut.

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About the Author

Alexander Olumese, PharmD

Alexander Olumese is a DMV-based registered pharmacist and medical writer. He has over 10 years of experience with community and hospital pharmacies, as well as over 3 years within the pharmaceutical industry as a medical writer within medical affairs. He has a background in a variety of therapeutic areas. However, he specializes in cardiovascular disease, oncology, pain medicine, and infectious disease.

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