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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder characterized by abdominal cramping, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. The condition affects as many as 10 percent of people worldwide and has no cure. A recent study shows that adopting three or more healthy lifestyle behaviors may reduce the risk of IBS by as much as 42 percent.

The study involved more than 64,000 people enrolled in the UK Biobank database. Researchers collected information about the participants' dietary intake and whether they engaged in any of five healthy lifestyle behaviors: never smoking, getting optimal sleep, engaging in vigorous physical activity, eating a quality diet, and moderating their alcohol intake.

They found that 11.8 percent of the participants did not practice any of the five critical healthy behaviors; 32.1 percent practiced one, 34.1 percent practiced two, and 21.9 percent practiced three to five healthy behaviors. As participants engaged in more healthy behaviors, their likelihood of developing IBS decreased, with those practicing one healthy behavior having a 21 percent lower risk, those with two healthy behaviors having a 36 percent lower risk, and those engaging in three to five healthy behaviors having a 42 percent lower risk. These findings were consistent across various groups, regardless of age, sex, job status, where they lived, history of gastrointestinal infection, endometriosis, family history of IBS, or other lifestyle habits.

These findings suggest that adopting multiple healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as not smoking, staying physically active, and getting good sleep, can significantly reduce the risk of developing IBS. Learn more about factors that influence gut health in this episode featuring Dr. Eran Elinav.

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