Slippery Elm for IBS

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Slippery elm is an herbal supplement that has been used over the centuries as a remedy for a wide variety of physical ills. Anecdotally, many people recommend it as a way to ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Let's take a look at what slippery elm is, what it is used for, its safety record, and what research has to say about it.

What Is Slippery Elm?

Slippery elm is an herbal preparation made from the inner bark of the slippery elm tree.

It's botanical names are Ulmus fulva and Ulmus rubra. The slippery elm tree can be found primarily in North America.

Slippery elm has long been used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes. They used preparations made from the inner bark as a topical antiseptic treatment for wounds, burns and skin irritations, and they ingested it as a treatment for coughs and respiratory problems.

Slippery elm is available in powder, capsule and lozenge form. Slippery elm may be found in compound herbal preparations, where it is combined with herbs such as cranesbill and marshmallow.

How Is Slippery Elm Thought to Help IBS?

Due to its mucilage-like consistency, slippery elm is thought to be soothing to any irritated tissue lining the digestive system when taken orally. Due to its effect on the stool, slippery elm is also thought to be helpful for both diarrhea and constipation, as it softens and adds smooth bulk to fecal matter.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any clinical research as to slippery elm's effectiveness in easing IBS symptoms.

Slippery Elm and Other Digestive Symptoms

Slippery elm has also been used as a remedy for other digestive problems, including gastritis, heartburn and reflux. As with IBS, there is little research regarding slippery elm's effectiveness for these conditions.

The FDA has not recommended it as a treatment for any particular health condition.

Slippery elm is frequently used by patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In response to this popular use, a study was done to assess the antioxidant qualities of slippery elm and other herbal preparations, as antioxidants are thought to play a role in reducing inflammation. In the lab, slippery elm did display the antioxidant qualities that the study was assessing, resulting in the conclusion that slippery elm appears promising and should be further evaluated as a potential remedy for IBD.

How Do I Take Slippery Elm?

Slippery elm is available in capsule or powder form. Parents should check with their pediatrician for the appropriate dosage for children. For adults, most preparations will recommend:

  • Capsule: 250 to 500 mg, three to four times a day
  • Powder: Mix two cups boiling water to one tablespoon of powder, three times a day.

It is often recommended that a person start with one dose a day and then slowly work up to the recommended amount in order to allow time for the body to adjust.

Will it Interact With My Medications?

Although little is actually known as to how slippery elm works within your body, there are some concerns that it may interfere with the way that other medications or herbal remedies are absorbed by your body. To avoid this, some recommend that  slippery elm be taken several hours before or after taking other medications.

The Bottom Line

Although research evidence is lacking, in general slippery elm is considered to be a safe remedy for digestive distress for adults and children. As a supplement, it may be taken when you are experiencing acute symptoms or taken on a regular basis to manage chronic symptoms. As with any dietary or herbal supplement, be sure to check with your doctor before use.


Langmead, L., Dawson, C., Hawkins, C., Banna, N., Loo, S., & Rampton, D. "Antioxidant effects of herbal therapies used by patients with inflammatory bowel disease: an in vitro study" Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2002 16:197-205.

"Slippery Elm" University of Maryland Medical Center Accessed March 24, 2016.

"Slippery Elm" University of Michigan Health System Accessed March 25, 2016.

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