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 it 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 the 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.

  • Herbs for IBS: Herbal remedies are a popular go-to for digestive relief and there are a number of options. These include peppermint oil and slippery elm among the top choices. There are also herbs specific to symptoms such as aloe vera and chamomile for diarrhea and amalaki and triphala for constipation.
  • Probiotics for IBS: Often called "friendly" bacteria, certain probiotics may balance out the "unfriendly" bacteria causing problems in your digestive system.
  • Digestive Enzymes for IBS: Commonly found in IBS discussion forums, digestive enzyme supplements are often recommended. Yet, the research remains limited as to their effectiveness.
  • Is a Vitamin D Deficiency Behind Your IBS? 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 the OTC is only a part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

  • Magnesium for Constipation: A common recommendation of IBS-C, magnesium can relax intestine muscles and attract water to soften the stool.
  • Comprehensive Laxative Guide: There are many laxatives available in drug stores. Before you decide to try one out, it's a good idea to have a basic understanding of what's 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 for Constipation: People throughout the world have long known flaxseed to have health benefits. When it comes to IBS, there are studies showing that it aids in the relief of constipation as well as bloating and abdominal pain.
  • Triphala for Digestive Health: 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.
  • Atrantil for IBS Constipation: This supplement is designed specifically for constipation-predominant IBS. Though studies are limited, there may be some benefits and relief found here.

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 for Diarrhea: Calcium seems like a harmless supplement and many people with IBS swear by it. However, it's very important to discuss this with your doctor. It seems contradictory, but you can get too much calcium in your body.
  • Imodium for Diarrhea: Another popular diarrhea remedy, Imodium is often easy to tolerate. Yet, there are some digestive side effects that you should be aware of.
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