5 Natural Remedies for IBS That May Work for You

You might have access to relief from IBS symptoms within reach.

Treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be tough. It's characterized by abdominal pain and either constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of both, but its symptoms are different for every person who is diagnosed with it—and so is what works to provide relief.

Medications are available to ease the symptoms of IBS, but some patients feel better trying natural remedies instead of (or in addition to) conventional drugs. The problem is, said Yuri Saito-Loftus, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, there's not nearly as much scientific research on these "treatments" to show how well they really work.

"There's usually not a big pharmaceutical company with billions of dollars to sponsor a randomized clinical trial for these alternative remedies," Dr. Saito-Loftus said. "A lot of what we rely on to make recommendations to our patients are the rare cases when either the government or a large supplement company has enough interest to fund a study."

A June 2017 British Journal of Pharmacology review did provide some hope for people who get no benefit, or have bad side effects, from traditional IBS medicines, however. Researchers noted that several alternative therapies do seem to be effective at relieving symptoms.

We asked Dr. Saito-Loftus (whose research is referenced in the review) for her thoughts on these and other natural remedies. Here's her advice—including some words of caution—about what's worked for her patients.

Fiber

Getting more fiber, either through food or supplements, does seem to improve some cases of IBS, Dr. Saito-Loftus said. The authors of a July 2017 International Journal of Molecular Medicine review noted that fiber with certain characteristics–namely, "long-chain, intermediate viscous, soluble, and moderately fermentable dietary fiber (e.g., psyllium)," which make you feel full—was most helpful for relieving overall IBS symptoms.

"I definitely am a big advocate of at least trying fiber as a remedy, particularly for my patients with constipation-predominant IBS," Dr. Saito-Loftus said. She's a bit more cautious for those who have a lot of bloating, gassiness, or diarrhea, since fiber can make these symptoms worse.

Foods high in fiber—such as beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—are typically low-calorie and full of vitamins and other nutrients, so Dr. Saito-Loftus recommended incorporating them into your diet if you can. But if getting all your fiber from food is too difficult, taking a regular supplement can help make up for what's missing.

"I do caution my patients that fiber doesn't work for everybody," Dr. Saito-Loftus said. "But if you find that after transitioning to a high-fiber diet that you aren't feeling better, at least you can say you tried."

Peppermint Oil

Of all the herbal remedies studied in the June 2017 review, peppermint oil seemed to have the most promising results, with clinical trials dating back to 1972. In particular, peppermint oil was found to provide relief from abdominal pain and overall IBS symptoms according to researchers of a January 2019 BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine review.

"It's something I recommend to patients particularly with a lot of IBS-related pain," Dr. Saito-Loftus said. "Peppermint oil is thought to be a natural anti-spasmodic, and it seems to be beneficial—maybe not for constipation or diarrhea, but specifically for those who do have a lot of pain."

Iberogast

Dr. Saito-Loftus also recommended Iberogast (also known as STW-5), a trademarked liquid formula made of nine different plant extracts—including peppermint—to patients with IBS-related pain. It seems to work particularly well for people who have pain around mealtime, Dr. Saito-Loftus added.

STW-5 has been shown to calm down the digestive process in the stomach and intestines as well as reduce the production of gastric acid and inflammation, according to a July 2020 Frontiers in Psychiatry review. Additionally, in the British Journal of Pharmacology review, the authors noted that Iberogast also seems to have anti-spasmodic qualities, although it's unknown which ingredient (or ingredients) are most responsible.

Digestive Enzymes

In terms of complementary and alternative medicine therapies—known as CAM therapies—a September 2018 Gastroenterology & Hepatology article indicated that digestive enzymes were among the top-used supplements for individuals with IBS.

These supplements weren't included in the June 2017 review, but Dr. Saito-Loftus said that they may be helpful, particularly for people with diarrhea-predominant IBS. "It may simply be that there's no data on them, but I can tell you that a lot of my patients come to me already taking them," Dr. Saito-Loftus said.

Dr. Saito-Loftus said the risk of trying these is low, and the potential benefits—anecdotally, at least—are high. "I've had patients who swear by them, and others who have not," Dr. Saito-Loftus added. "It comes down to reading the bottle and considering the price and making the decision whether it's worth it to give them a try."

Stress-Reduction Strategies

While stress relief may not come in a bottle (and was not discussed in the British Journal of Pharmacology review), Dr. Saito-Loftus said it's one of the most important natural remedies to consider when dealing with IBS.

"I think sometimes stress worsens symptoms and sometimes symptoms worsen stress, but the combination of the two is very important," Dr. Saito-Loftus explained. "You can't always modify your stressors, but you can modify your response to that stress—and I think working on that is so important."

Dr. Saito-Loftus encouraged patients to explore different options for stress reduction and find what works best for them. "For some people it's yoga, exercise, or meditation," Dr. Loftus added. "And sometimes it's simply a matter of mindfulness and reflection, and making a conscious effort to try not to worsen the stress that's already there."

If you find that you still continue to have issues with IBS symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider to determine what other options may be available for relief.

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