Alternative Therapies for IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes uncomfortable and painful symptoms like cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. In the U.S., this condition affects between 10% and 30% of the population. Traditional treatment for IBS usually involves medication, which is effective, but often causes undesirable side-effects. However, according the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are several complementary and alternative therapies that may be very effective at treating IBS.

Most of these remedies focus on stress management because there is evidence to suggest that IBS is related to an abnormal immune system. Because stress affects your immune system, stress management can be an effective treatment for IBS.

Here are some of the ways you can manage stress, and improve symptoms of IBS:
  • Meditation. In 2001, the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy outlined a study in which participants practiced Herbert Benson's (1975) Relaxation Response Meditation technique twice a day for 15 minutes. Researchers observed significant improvements in many IBS symptoms. Read more about easy relaxation techniques.
  • Psychotherapy. A 1983 edition of The Lancet (a UK medical journal), reported that psychotherapy caused significant improvement of IBS symptoms.
  • Regular exercise. The NIH recommends exercise as a way to improve IBS symptoms and enhance overall health. Read SparkPeople's guide to exercising with IBS to get started.
  • Acupuncture. The results of a small 1997 study published in Hepatogastroenterology showed a significant improvement both in general well-being and symptoms of bloating in participants undergoing acupuncture treatments.
  • Hypnotherapy. A randomized, controlled trial reported in the British Journal of General Practice in 2006, found that hypnotherapy improved symptoms and decreased the need for medication in people suffering from IBS.
Besides stress-management techniques, other alternative therapies have shown promise:
  • Herbal therapy. A 2006 edition of the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, reported that certain Chinese herbs significantly improved symptoms of IBS, compared with a placebo. Other studies have noted that peppermint oil is beneficial. Herbs remain controversial because they can interact with medications and are not regulated for safety or potency. Get the facts on herbal supplements.
  • Probiotics. Replenishing the intestinal flora to reduce IBS symptoms has been the subject of numerous studies. In 2006, the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology reported that “therapeutic trials" of certain probiotics (Bifidobacteria or Lactobacilli species) improved symptoms of IBS. Learn more about probiotics.
In the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, researchers note the widespread use of complementary and alternative therapies in treating IBS, and comment that, “we need more science and more controlled studies; the absence of truly randomized placebo-controlled trials for many of these [complementary] therapies has limited meaningful progress in this area”. For your safety, always discuss the use of alternative therapies, especially supplements and herbs, with your doctor before trying them on your own.