Herbs and Natural Remedies for IBS

Herbs being ground into supplements
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At times, it can be challenging to get your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) under control. You may find it helpful to learn about some herbs and other natural remedies thought to be good for digestive symptoms.

Herbal Remedies vs. Prescription Medication

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. This offers 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. They 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. This can reduce 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.

Artichoke Leaf Extract. A newer natural remedy to the IBS treatment list, artichoke leaf extract (ALE) shows some surprising promise. In a 2016 meta-analysis, various studies indicate that it is effective in reducing bowel movements from regular constipation and diarrhea down to "normal." This is believed to be due to a certain antispasmodic compound called cynaropicrin.

Aloe Vera. Aloe vera juice is often marketed as a remedy for IBS. However, the limited research that exists on the subject is contradictory. Some studies have shown it to have no effects on IBS symptoms. Yet, at least one double-blind RCT trial found it to effective in constipation, but not abdominal pain. There is still much debate and more research is needed.

Herbs for Constipation

These herbs and herbal preparations are considered remedies for constipation because they have a laxative effect.

AmalakiThe fruit of the Amalaki tree is found throughout Asia and used often in Ayurvedic medicine. It is thought to positively affect overall digestion and serve as a laxative. 

TriphalaTriphala, 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 that contain substances called anthraquinones are used as stimulant laxatives. Examples of these 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. Instead, they should be taken for no longer than seven days for the treatment of acute constipation. 

Herbs for Diarrhea

Certain herbs have been associated with a quieting of diarrhea symptoms.

ChamomileMost 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.

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.

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View Article Sources
  • 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.
  • Bahrami HR, Hamedi S, Salari R, Noras M. Herbal Medicines for the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review. Electronic Physician. 2016;8(8):2719-2725.