Slippery Elm for Constipation and IBS

SLIPPERY ELM LEAVES, ULMUS RUBRA. DICOT LEAVES - ELM TREE. INNER BARK COLLECTED & POWDERED FOR THERAPUTIC USE
John Macgregor / Getty Images

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 chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This overview will educate you as to what slippery elm is, what it is used for, its safety record, and what research has to say about its effectiveness so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it is the right supplement for you.

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

Can Slippery Elm Help Constipation?

There is no direct research on the effectiveness of slippery elm in easing the symptoms of constipation. However when taken orally, its mucilage-like consistency is thought to have a positive effect on stool formation.

Slippery elm appears to add softness and bulk to the stool which may serve to promote more comfortable bowel movements.

Can Slippery Elm Help IBS?

As with constipation, there is no direct research on the effectiveness of slippery elm in easing the symptoms of IBS. However, that same mucilage-like consistency is thought to be soothing to any irritated tissue lining the digestive system.

Interestingly, due to its effect on the stool, slippery elm is thought to be helpful for both constipation and diarrhea, as it softens and adds smooth bulk to fecal matter. Therefore in addition to possibly being of help for constipation predominant IBS (IBS-C) and diarrhea predominant IBS (IBS-D), this dual action might make it a good option if you have alternating type IBS (IBS-A), but this is completely speculative. 

Slippery Elm and Other Digestive Symptoms

Slippery elm has also been used as a remedy for other digestive problems, including gastritis, heartburn and reflux. In these areas as well, there is little research regarding slippery elm's effectiveness in easing the symptoms of these conditions. The FDA has not recommended it as a treatment for any particular health condition.

How Do I Take Slippery Elm?

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

  • Capsule: 250 to 1000 mg, three to four times a day. Be sure to accompany each capsule with a full glass of water.
  • Powder: Mix two cups boiling water to one tablespoon of powder (then cooled), three times a day.
  • Tincture or lozenge: Follow dosing information.

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.

Sources:

"Slippery Elm" University of Maryland Medical Center..

"Slippery Elm" University of Michigan Health System.

Continue Reading