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.
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Member Comments

I don't have IBS, but I do have colitis...some foods, usually fiber, do trigger a problem Report
Very informative article.Thanks! Report
Good article. Report
As a chronic IBS and other bowel issue sufferer, I can't eat high-fiber anything with out experiencing discomfort (Dr.'s orders). That creates a challenge with my nutrition and caloric intake goals. I have worked hard and have found a number of nutritious low-cal / low-fiber foods. Yet I often feel hungry and know that high-fiber foods with the same calorie count would help to feel less so. Some dairy can also be problematic with my gut, too. It's difficult to find a nutrition plan that addresses those of us with these specific needs. Report
Interesting information to follow up on. Report
I have found that using a digestive enzyme with pepsin along with a good probiotic has helped me with my digestive issues. Report
I have found that the root powder slippery elm has benefited several patients of mine. As a probiotic, it promotes growth of good bacteria and has high nutrient values. It is also described as a 'demulcent', soothing to wounds, aches and pains.

I have prescribed slippery elm with a few other herbal medicines including peppermint oil - to success.

blog.saintandsm Report
I have IBS, but have significantly reduced my attacks and symptoms from food by being treated with Advanced Allergy Therapeutics (look it up). It is a combination of old world acupressure (no needles!) and a computer simulating your allergy (in my case corn, dairy, potatoes, peanuts, onion, and magnesium). I had gone 25 years without purposefully eating those items and now I can! Still get symptoms from stress and the allergy can come back (usually years later) but 1 treatment will fix it again. All 6 items took less than 10 treatments (15 mins each) to fix. Report
I can only comment to my experience, but since I quit eating wheat and minimize my other grain intake, I have been symptom free. I suggest reading Dr. William Davis's Wheat Belly book for more scientific info on getting IBS under control or eliminating it all together. By the way I have lost 30 pounds during my wheat-free new life! I am getting plenty of fiber through vegetable and fruit sources as recommended by most "experts" on IBS. Report
Actually, allergies are often a trigger for asthma; asthma is not the same as an allergic reaction. Asthma is the reaction of the cells in the branches of the lungs secreting too much mucousa and the muscles contracting. Report
Interesting. I note most of the alternative therapies have to do with reducing stress.

Everyone should note, there has been extensive research into IBS therapy using hookworm.... yes, the hookworm parasite.

Turns out many cases of IBS are actually allergic reactions. When people with diverticulae or IBS symptoms are given worm eggs, their symptoms completely resolve. The theory is, our bodies evolved in conjunction with the parasite, and since modern sanitation facilities have essentially removed hookworm from the population, people's immune system has nothing to react to and thus starts to attack the lining of the bowel (much like some asthma is an allergic reaction).

The hookworm poses its own problems, so hookworm therapy is not a cure... but it is interesting. Report
I struggled with IBS for more than a year. During that time I tried a self-hypnosis recording from the UK that helped a lot, called the IBS Stress Kit. It is a 100 day program that progresses through a series of 5 guided meditations.

However, my symptoms disappeared as soon as I stopped taking a progestin-only birth control pill. If you are a female taking a POP and have IBS, it is worth going off it for a month or two to see if that's the cause for you as well, assuming of course there are other bc methods you can use! Report


About The Author

Liza Barnes
Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.