Should You Try Iberogast for Your IBS?

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Iberogast® is an over-the-counter herbal formulation that has much research to support its usefulness in easing the symptoms of functional dyspepsia (FD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Iberogast® has been in use for over fifty years. It can be thought of as a "blend of bitters," harkening back to a time when bitters were used extensively as digestive aids. Iberogast® was developed by a German country (Steigerwald Arzneimittelwerk GmbH) and is available without a prescription throughout the world.

Here you will learn all about the safety and effectiveness of Iberogast® so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it would be a good option for you to try as you attempt to manage your symptoms of IBS.

What Is In Iberogast®?

Iberogast® (known as STW 5 in research articles) is a liquid preparation that is comprised of nine herbs:

  • Bitter candytuft (Iberis amara totalis recens)
  • Dried angelica root (Angelicae radix)
  • Dried chamomile flower head (Matricariae flos)
  • Dried caraway fruit - commonly known as seeds (Carvi fructus)
  • Milk thistle dried fruit (Silybi mariani fructus)
  • Dried balm leaf (Melissae folium)
  • Dried peppermint leaf (Menthae piperitae folium)
  • Dried celandine (Chelidonii herba)
  • Dried liquorice root (Liquiritiae radix)

Iberogast®'s Effect on Your Body

Research on Iberogast® suggests that it supports healthy digestion through a variety of mechanisms. The bitter candytuft appears to be helpful in improving smooth muscle tone, while the other eight herbs appear to have antispasmodic properties.

It is this double action that seems to explain why the medication is helpful for both upper digestive symptoms (functional dyspepsia) and lower digestive symptoms (IBS). Iberogast® is thought to promote motility (the strength and movement of the muscles in the digestive tract) and to stimulate the production of bile (a fluid responsible for the digestion of fats), as well as to reduce the production of stomach acid.

Other purported health benefits of Iberogast® are that it is thought to reduce intestinal gas, to prevent and to heal ulcers, and to have antibacterial and antinflammatory effects. It is also thought to contain antioxidants and to inhibit free radicals.

Research Findings on Iberogast®

In Europe, regulatory agencies have more stringent standards for herbal remedies than those in the United States. Such formulations must meet the same strict requirements as prescription medications. This means that it needs to be tested in high quality clinical studies.

Thus Iberogast® has been extensively studied for its effectiveness and safety in promoting digestive health in both the upper and lower parts of the digestive tract. As stated above, the two conditions for which it has the most research support are functional dyspepsia and IBS.

Numerous studies have found that Iberogast® is significantly more likely to be effective on dyspepsia symptoms than a placebo and its effects are comparable to those found in a prescription medication.

As for IBS, a fairly large, double-blind study, that used a placebo control group, found that Iberogast® significantly reduced abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms when compared to a placebo. In this study, 203 people with an IBS diagnosis used Iberogast® for a period of four weeks. The results of this study suggest that Iberogast® is effective in improving quality of life, reducing abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms, regardless of IBS sub-type (e.g. constipation predominant, diarrhea predominant, or alternating type).

Although this study was a fairly high quality study with its use of a double-blind design and a placebo control, additional studies need to be conducted to provide further evidence for Iberogast®'s usefulness as a remedy for IBS.

Safety of Iberogast®

Over the course of the past five decades, numerous studies have investigated not only the effectiveness of Iberogast®, but its safety as well. Typically, side effects from the formulation are rare. This is due, in part, to the fact that the formulation acts on the digestive tract, with little impact on the central nervous system. When side effects occur, which is very rarely, they take the form of allergic-type symptoms such as itchy skin, hives or other skin rash, wheezing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

Unlike some other herbal preparations, there has been little to no evidence that Iberogast® is toxic to the liver. Thus most researchers conclude that Iberogast® is safe for long-term use.

Who Should Not Take Iberogast®

As with any over-the-counter product, you should always check with your doctor to ensure that there are no contradictions for you to give Iberogast® a try. You absolutely should get your doctor's approval if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You have liver disease
  • You are pregnant or intending to become pregnant
  • You are breast-feeding

Is Iberogast® Safe for Children?

A couple of large scale studies gathered data on the safety and effectiveness of Iberogast® for use in children. Each of these studies was fairly large-scale, but none of them were of double-blind design, nor did they use a placebo control group. However, these observational studies indicated that Iberogast® was very effective in reducing digestive symptoms, including functional dyspepsia and IBS. None of the studies revealed any negative side effects or any problems with Iberogast® interacting with other medications.

Another large-scale study assessed the effects of Iberogast® over a one-week period in children who were diagnosed with functional dyspepsia and/or IBS. The results noted a significant decrease in digestive symptoms. Side effects were rare and not serious, but included nausea, vomiting and an increase in abdominal pain and digestive symptoms.

How to Take Iberogast®

Iberogast® is a dark brown liquid that comes in a dark glass bottle with a dropper. It should be taken before or during a meal.

To use Iberogast®, you should shake the bottle vigorously. Using the dropper, you will add the correct number of drops to a small glass of water or other liquid. According to the manufacturer, adults and children over the age of 12 should take 20 drops, three times a day. Children ages six to 12 should take 15 drops three times a day, while children ages three to six should be given 10 drops, three times a day. Children ages three months to three years should be given eight drops three times a day, while children under the age of three months should be given six drops three times a day.

If you have skipped a dose or are fearful that you missed a dose, wait until your next scheduled meal to take your next dose. If you think you have taken too much, you do not need to be worried as there is no evidence of anyone experiencing harm from an overdose.

If you, or your child, experience any negative side effects, stop using Iberogast® and tell your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

IBS is a chronic health condition with limited options for effective treatment. In the past, doctors have had a limited number of medications to offer their IBS patients. Such medications typically targeted specific IBS symptoms. More recently, newer medications have come onto the market which are designed specifically as treatments for IBS. However, few people experience full symptom relief from these medications. There is a dietary treatment for IBS, the low-FODMAP diet, which can be effective for the large majority of people who try it, but is challenging to adhere to. 

Given the long-term nature of IBS, and the limitations of the treatment options outlined in the previous paragraph, Iberogast® seems to be an attractive option for people looking to manage the disorder. This may be particularly true for the many people for whom IBS is not the only digestive condition that they are dealing with, especially when the other condition is functional dyspepsia. If the idea of an herbal preparation that appears to be effective and that does not typically result in negative side effects appeals to you, ask your doctor if Iberogast® would be an appropriate intervention for you.

Sources:

Grundmann O, Yoon S. "Complementary and alternative medicines in irritable bowel syndrome: An integrative view" World Journal of Gastroenterology 2014 20(2):346–362.

"Iberogast Consumer Brochure®" June 2015.

Madisch A, Holtmann G, Plein K, Hotz J. "Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with herbal preparations: results of a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multi-centre trial" Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2004 19;3:271–279.

Ottillinger B, Storr M, Malfertheiner P, Allescher A. "STW 5 (Iberogast®)—a safe and effective standard in the treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders" Wien Med Wochenschr 2013 163;3-4:65–72.

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