Chinese Medicine Promising for Irritable Bowel Syndrome [CFS & FM News]

CHICAGO–Chinese medicine may be effective for relieving irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), although support for probiotics is lacking, according to researchers from Northwestern University Medical School. The researchers published a research review in the Feb. 10 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine (163, 3:265-74, 2003) (

According to the researchers, IBS is a common disorder that brings with it a significant burden of illness, poor quality of life, high rates of absenteeism and high health care utilization. Because management options are difficult and many times ineffective, researchers noted many physicians and patients lean toward alternative therapies to alleviate symptoms such as flatulence, abdominal pain and irregular bowel habits.

Of these therapies, the researchers cited “guarded optimism” for traditional Chinese medicine, as well as psychological therapies, although they noted further trials are needed to definitively prove the benefits of either regimen. The researchers also stated oral cromolyn sodium may be useful for treating chronic unexplained diarrhea, and appears as effective as and safer than elimination diets, which are commonly used to treat symptoms of IBS, although there is no evidence of food intolerance in IBS.

In reviewing the literature on probiotic use in IBS, the researchers stated a lack of supporting evidence for a benefit of this treatment, which is believed to improve the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Contrarily, investigators from United Kingdom reviewed IBS research and noted there are some studies showing improvement in IBS symptoms with probiotic administration (Br J Nutr, 88 Suppl 1:S67-S72, 2002) The researchers also noted IBS patients tend to have low numbers of the beneficial bacteria classes Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. And, a team from the University of California, Los Angeles, found the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum to be superior to placebo for improving IBS symptoms such as pain, bowel habit regularity and flatulence (Curr Treat Options Gastroenterol, 5, 4:267-78, 2002). Similar to the team from Chicago, the Los Angeles researchers also cited Chinese medicine as being effective for improving bowel symptoms and quality of life in IBS patients.

Source: Natural Products Insider, (

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