Chinese Herbs Soothe Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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In an important Australian study, 116 people with recurrent irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were treated with Chinese herbal medicine.

Participants were randomly given one of three treatments: a standard Chinese herbal pill formula (containing licorice and ginger among 20 other herbs); a similar formula individually tailored to the patients’ symptoms; or a placebo. All participants were directed to take 5 capsules three times daily. The herbal combinations consisted of classic Chinese formulas used for centuries in the treatment of gastrointestinal tract distress.

After four months, 76% of those taking the standard formula and 64% of those on tailored formulas said their symptoms had improved, compared with just 33% of those taking a placebo. Those on the herbal formulas also said that during the treatment IBS caused less interference in their lives and activities. Upon medical evaluation, traditional Chinese herbalists and gastroenterologists confirmed this assessment, finding that at least half of the patients taking the herbal treatments showed improvement, compared with less than a third of those taking placebos.

In some cases of people on individualized herbal formulas, the improvement lasted up to 14 weeks after stopping the herbs. Side effects were virtually nonexistent.

Abstracts of this study were originally published in the Journal of the American Medication Association.

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