Consumption also linked to greater risk of functional dyspepsia when IBS is present.
Adults with diets high in ultra-processed foods and beverages were at higher risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and concomitant functional dyspepsia (FDy), French researchers reported in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
That suggests the need to incorporate the impact of highly processed convenience foods into nutritional guidelines, said Laure Schnabel, MPH, of Paris-Sorbonne University, and colleagues.
The team studied the consumption of ultra-processed foods -- the popular, shelf-durable packaged and convenience foods and drinks with industrial formulations and plentiful additives that are increasingly replacing freshly prepared meals, even in the haute cuisineculture of France.
Foods consisted of more than 3,000 widely consumed dietitian-analyzed items, ranging from fresh and unprocessed foods to minimally processed (canned vegetables) and ultra-processed products (fish sticks, chicken nuggets, cookies, and sweetened drinks).
For the investigation, which the researchers said they believe to be the first such study, the team assessed the association between these products and four functional gastrointestinal disorders: IBS, FDy, functional constipation (FC), and functional diarrhea (FDh), disorders estimated to affect up to 25% of the population in industrialized countries.
The study sample was 76.4% women, and the mean age was 50.4. Before taking a self-administered questionnaire centered on Rome III diagnostic criteria, participants completed at least three 24-hour food-intake records with details on breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus up to three additional eating episodes."The low-fiber content of ultra-processed foods could be involved in the induction and/or exacerbation of digestive symptoms," the French investigators wrote. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis by Moayyedi et al found that soluble fibers supplements are effective in treating symptoms in IBS patients. Insoluble fiber -- found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes and fermented in the colon -- produce short-chain fatty acids that promote normal intestinal function.