Herbs and Natural Remedies for IBS

Herbs being ground into supplements
Warren Diggles Photography/Moment/Getty Images

If you have been having a hard time getting your IBS under control, you may find it helpful to learn about some herbs and other natural remedies thought to be helpful for digestive symptoms.

As compared with prescription medication, herbal remedies offer the potential benefits of fewer side effects and concerns about the safety of long-term use. However, prescription medications have to undergo rigorous safety testing before being made available to the general public, thus offering research-documented information regarding safety and effectiveness, something that is sorely lacking for most herbal remedies.

It is important to remember that just because herbal remedies are available over the counter, this does not mean that they are always safe. It is essential that you speak with your doctor before trying any herbal supplement to make sure that the herb in question will not negatively affect any medication you are taking or any other health problem that you may have.

Herbs for Improved Digestive Health

These herbs are thought to improve overall digestive health and thus are indicated for use regardless of IBS sub-type (constipation-predominant, diarrhea-predominant or alternating-type).

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil is the only herbal supplement to get the seal of approval from the American College of Gastroenterology due to its effectiveness in reducing abdominal pain. This pain-relieving quality is thought to be the result of peppermint oil’s effect on gut motility. Peppermint oil appears to relax the muscles of the gut, thus reducing the muscle spasms that contribute to abdominal pain.

Slippery Elm

Slippery elm has a long history of use by Native Americans as a remedy for a variety of health conditions. In terms of digestive health, slippery elm is thought to calm irritation by coating the lining of the intestinal system. Slippery elm’s effect on the stool illustrates why it is seen as helpful regardless of one’s predominant IBS symptom.

By adding bulk to the stool, it is thought to ease diarrhea. Slippery elm also softens the stool, thus helping ease constipation.

Herbs for Constipation

The following herbs and herbal preparations are considered remedies for constipation due to having a laxative effect:

Amalaki

The fruit of the amalaki tree, grown throughout Asia, is thought to positively effect on overall digestion, as well as serving as a laxative. 

Triphala

Triphala, translated as “three fruits,” is an herbal preparation that combines the fruit of the bibhataki and haritaki trees, along with that of the amalaki tree. In addition to its laxative effect, triphala is thought to reduce abdominal pain and bloating

Herbal Stimulant Laxatives

Certain herbs, those containing substances called anthraquinones, are used as stimulant laxatives. Examples of these herbs include senna, cascara, rhubarb and frangula. Due to concerns about their safety, it is not recommended that these herbs be used on a regular basis, but rather limited to being taken for no longer than seven days for the treatment of acute constipation.

 

Herbs for Diarrhea

The following have been associated with a quieting of diarrhea symptoms:

Chamomile

Most commonly found in the form of tea, chamomile is also sold as a liquid or capsule supplement. Chamomile is thought to reduce inflammation and quiet spasms in the gut. Chamomile is not appropriate for anyone following a low-FODMAP diet.

Aloe Vera for IBS

Although ads for aloe vera juice promote it as a remedy for IBS, the limited research that exists on the subject show absolutely no benefit for constipation. Can it help diarrhea? Maybe, but more research needs to be conducted before one can be sure. 

Berry Leaf Teas

Many herbalists swear by teas made from blueberry, blackberry and raspberry leaves. These leaves contain substances called tannins, whose effect on reducing inflammation and decreasing secretion of fluid may account for the anti-diarrheal reputations of these teas.

 

Source:

American College of Gastroenterology IBS Task Force "An Evidence-Based Position Statement on the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome" American Journal of Gastroenterology 2009:S1-S35.

Continue Reading