Do Over-the-Counter Remedies for IBS Really Work?

There is no one medication that can cure irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This leaves those dealing with the condition the difficult task of trying to choose among the wide variety of over-the-counter (OTC) products that are advertised for IBS relief.

To help you in your search for symptom relief, let's look at some of the more popular IBS remedies. This includes the research support for their effectiveness and the information you need to decide if an over-the-counter IBS product is right for you. Don't forget to get the go-ahead from your doctor before trying any new treatment option.

Products for Overall Digestive Health

Customer buying medicine in a store

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As puzzling as it may seem, there are products that are helpful in relieving digestive distress regardless of whether your primary symptom is diarrhea or constipation.

The multiple factors that may contribute to IBS symptoms are reflected in the purported actions of these various OTC remedies. This may be aiding ​gut motility, improving the bacterial balance in your digestive tract, or soothing hypersensitive or inflamed gut walls.

These are some of the categories:

  • Herbs: Herbal remedies are a popular go-to for digestive relief and there are a number of options. These include peppermint oil, aloe vera, and slippery elm among the top choices
  • Probiotics: Often called "friendly" bacteria, certain probiotics may balance out the "unfriendly" bacteria causing problems in your digestive system and have been shown to help reduce pain and severity of symptoms
  • Digestive enzymes: Recent research has shown that a combination of digestive enzymes, beta-glucan fiber, and inositol supplements may help significantly reduce abdominal pain, bloating, and flatulence
  • Vitamin D: This fat-soluble vitamin is naturally produced by your body through sunlight exposure. Also available in foods and supplements, there is some evidence that a vitamin D deficiency may be linked to some IBS symptoms in some people

Constipation Remedies

Woman on the couch suffering from constipation

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It seems that you have to walk in the shoes of someone who suffers from chronic constipation to truly understand the suffering involved. Constipation can be a very vexing problem with no easy solutions.

For some individuals, one of the following over-the-counter medicines for IBS may be all that is needed. Others find that OTC drugs are only one part of a comprehensive treatment plan:

  • Magnesium: A common recommendation of IBS-C, magnesium is a natural laxative that can relax intestine muscles and attract water to soften the stool.
  • Laxatives: There are many laxatives available in drug stores. Before you decide to try one, it's a good idea to have a basic understanding of the types available.
  • Stool softeners: Designed for short-term use, stool softeners can be a good way to get things moving again. As with all OTCs, educating yourself and talking to your doctor before taking one is a good idea.
  • Flaxseed: People throughout the world have long known flaxseed to have health benefits. When it comes to IBS, studies show it aids in the relief of constipation as well as diarrhea, thanks to both its high fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds
  • Triphala: Triphala is a staple in ayurvedic medicine and one of its main benefits is digestive health. It is a combination of three fruits—amalaki, bibhataki, and haritaki—each of which is purported to be good for the gut. Triphala has been shown to restore the epithelial lining of the digestive tract in scientific research
  • Atrantil: This supplement is designed specifically for constipation-predominant IBS. Though studies are limited, there may be some benefits and relief found here, primarily in the form of reduced bloating and constipation.

Diarrhea Remedies

Woman suffering from abdominal pain

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The unpredictable and intrusive nature of chronic diarrhea lends itself to the very human desire to “make it stop now!” Although they are not the miracle cure that is so desperately needed, the following products may serve to provide some relief, either alone or as part of an overall treatment strategy:

  • Calcium: Calcium is slightly constipating, and many people with IBS swear by it. However, it's very important to discuss taking supplemental calcium with your doctor. It seems contradictory, but you can have too much calcium in your body.
  • Imodium: Another popular diarrhea remedy, Imodium is often easy to tolerate. Yet, there are some digestive side effects that you should be aware of, including dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, and fatigue.
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