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Healthy lifestyle choices linked to lower IBS risk

Healthy lifestyle choices could significantly reduce the risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to new research.

Healthy lifestyle choices could significantly reduce the risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to new research.

The research, published in the journal Gut, found that adopting three to five healthy behaviours was associated with a 42% lower risk of IBS.

These behaviours included not smoking; getting enough sleep; doing a high level of vigorous physical activity; eating a healthy, balanced diet; and moderate alcohol intake.

Three of these behaviours (not smoking, sleep, and physical activity) were all independently associated with a lower risk.

Lifestyle factors as a means to prevent the onset of IBS

IBS is a common disorder affecting the gastrointestinal tract. It affects roughly one in 10 people and is characterised by symptoms including stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, however, certain factors are thought to play a role. This includes strong or weak muscle contractions in the intestine, issues with nerves in the digestive system, severe infection, early life stress and changes in gut microbes.

Previous studies have linked individual lifestyle factors with a heightened risk of IBS, but little research has focused on whether a combination of these factors could improve symptoms.

To test this, the researchers used data from the UK Biobank. In total, 64,286 people (with a mean age of 55) had completed at least two 24-hour dietary recall questionnaires which asked how many of the ‘healthy behaviours’ they adhere to.

At the start of the monitoring period, 12% said they didn’t do any of the healthy behaviours, 32% said they did one, 34% reported two; and 22% reported three to five behaviours.

The participants were then monitored over 12.5 years and 961 (1.5%) cases of IBS were recorded.

Higher number of healthy behaviours associated with larger reduction in risk

After accounting for potentially influential factors, the researchers concluded that the higher the number of healthy behaviours, the lower the risk of IBS.

One behaviour was associated with a 21% lower risk, two behaviours a 36% lower risk, and three to five a 42% lower risk.

Of the three behaviours that were independently associated with a lower risk of IBS, never smoking reduced the risk by 14%, high levels of activity reduced the risk by 17%, and a good night’s sleep reduced the risk by 27%.

These associations were independent of age, sex, employment status, residential area, gut infection, family history of IBS or other lifestyle choices.

The value of lifestyle modification

However, since the study is observational, it cannot establish a cause. The authors also note various other limitations, including that participants self-reported information, the findings may not apply to younger age groups, and that it was not possible to account for any lifestyle changes over the monitoring period.

Nevertheless, Ho FF, Sun H, Zheng H, et al conclude that lifestyle modification as a means to prevent the onset of the condition should be given due attention.

“IBS has a complex aetiology, involving biological, genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors. Our findings underscore the value of lifestyle modification in the primary prevention of IBS and suggest that healthy lifestyle choices could significantly attenuate the effects of aetiological factors on the incidence of IBS,” they conclude.

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