By Karen Lee Richards
Finding an effective treatment for IBS can be challenging. One reason is that no single remedy works for all IBS patients.
While there are drugs on the market that may provide some temporary relief from IBS symptoms, even the FDA acknowledges that drugs should be the last option. They recommend that patients try other natural options such as dietary modifications, relaxation techniques and other lifestyle changes (like exercise) before resorting to medication.1
6 Tips: IBS and Complementary Health Practices
Natural options that may be helpful for IBS symptom relief include a variety of complementary therapies. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health offers the following tips to consider if you’re thinking about trying a complementary health practice for IBS:2
1. Hypnotherapy (hypnosis). This practice involves the power of suggestion by a trained hypnotist or hypnotherapist during a state of deep relaxation, and is the most widely used mind and body intervention for IBS. According to reviews of the scientific literature, hypnotherapy may be a helpful treatment for managing IBS symptoms. Several studies of hypnotherapy for IBS have shown substantial long-term improvement of gastrointestinal symptoms as well as anxiety, depression, disability, and quality of life.
2. Probiotics – Probiotics such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are live microorganisms that are similar to microorganisms normally found in the human digestive tract. There is some preliminary evidence that suggests some probiotics may improve symptoms of IBS, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and gas; however, there is not enough evidence to support the use of probiotics of IBS, and not all probiotics have the same results.
3. Peppermint oil – Peppermint oil is one herbal remedy often used to treat IBS for which there are mixed results. There is some evidence that enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules may be modestly effective in reducing several common symptoms of IBS—especially abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Non-enteric coated forms of peppermint oil may cause or worsen heartburn symptoms, but otherwise appear to be generally safe. (Enteric-coating allows the peppermint oil to pass through the stomach unaltered so it can dissolve in the intestines. However, if coated peppermint oil capsules are taken at the same time as medicines such as antacids, this coating can break down more quickly and increase the risk of heartburn and nausea.)
4. Herbal remedies. Herbal remedies are commonly used for IBS symptoms; however, much of the research on these remedies has been done in China. A review of clinical trials for 71 herbal remedies found limited evidence suggesting that a few of these herbal remedies might help improve IBS symptoms including abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. However, the review emphasizes that the studies were generally of poor quality.
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5. Acupuncture – While a few small studies have indicated that acupuncture has some positive effect on quality of life in people with IBS, reviews of the scientific literature have concluded that there is no convincing evidence to support the use of acupuncture for the treatment of IBS symptoms.
6. Take charge of your health – Talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.
Personally, I’ve tried several complementary therapies for IBS with varying degrees of success at different times. For example, I found a probiotic to be very helpful for constipation, but less helpful for diarrhea. On the other hand, my acupuncturist says he has great success treating diarrhea, but not so much treating constipation. Peppermint oil gelcaps have been very good at easing abdominal pain and discomfort, however, I haven’t noticed a significant effect on either constipation or diarrhea.
The bottom line is that we are all different so what works for me may not work for you and vice versa. Also, due to the changing nature of IBS symptoms, what helps you today may not work as well for you a few months from now when your symptoms have changed slightly. It may be worth trying various complementary therapies at different times to see if and when they are most helpful.
Of course, always check with your doctor and/or pharmacist before utilizing a complementary therapy, especially when ingesting a supplement or herbal remedy, to make sure it doesn’t interact with other medications you may be taking.
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief, as well as being the Editor of both the IBS and Weight Loss HealthWatch newsletters. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth.
1. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatments Aren’t One-Size-FIts-All.” U.S. Food & Drug Administration. April 6, 2017.
2. “6 Tips: IBS and Complementary Health Practices.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. September 24, 2015.