As many as one in five Americans have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a chronic disorder that interferes with the normal functions of the colon and is characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Many people with IBS turn to complementary health practices to help relieve their symptoms, and there is emerging evidence that some of these practices may have modest benefits.
If you are thinking about a complementary health practice for IBS, here are 6 tips:
- Hypnotherapy (hypnosis). This practice involves the power of suggestion by a trained hypnotist or hypnotherapist during a state of deep relaxation, and is the most widely used mind and body intervention for IBS. According to reviews of the scientific literature, hypnotherapy may be a helpful treatment for managing IBS symptoms. Several studies of hypnotherapy for IBS have shown substantial long-term improvement of gastrointestinal symptoms as well as anxiety, depression, disability, and quality of life.
- Probiotics. Probiotics such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are live microorganisms that are similar to microorganisms normally found in the human digestive tract. There is some preliminary evidence that suggests some probiotics may improve symptoms of IBS, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and gas; however, there is not enough evidence to support the use of probiotics of IBS, and not all probiotics have the same results.
- Peppermint oil. Peppermint oil is one herbal remedy often used to treat IBS for which there are mixed results. There is some evidence that enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules may be modestly effective in reducing several common symptoms of IBS—especially abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Non-enteric coated forms of peppermint oil may cause or worsen heartburn symptoms, but otherwise appear to be generally safe. (Enteric-coating allows the peppermint oil to pass through the stomach unaltered so it can dissolve in the intestines. However, if coated peppermint oil capsules are taken at the same time as medicines such as antacids, this coating can break down more quickly and increase the risk of heartburn and nausea.)
- Herbal remedies. Herbal remedies are commonly used for IBS symptoms; however, much of the research on these remedies has been done in China. A review of clinical trials for 71 herbal remedies found limited evidence suggesting that a few of these herbal remedies might help improve IBS symptoms including abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. However, the review emphasizes that the studies were generally of poor quality.
- Acupuncture. While a few small studies have indicated that acupuncture has some positive effect on quality of life in people with IBS, reviews of the scientific literature have concluded that there is no convincing evidence to support the use of acupuncture for the treatment of IBS symptoms.
- Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.