These alternatives to potent prescription IBS drugs may offer relief without side effects.
When you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), marked by frequent bouts of diarrhea (IBS-D), constipation (IBS-C), or mixed symptoms (IBS-M), you might be willing to try anything to relieve your symptoms.
Prescription medication can come with potential side effects and may not work as well as advertised. In any case, natural remedies can be helpful. In fact, they may be all you need to control your IBS symptoms for long-term relief.
“Some natural and over-the-counter remedies can completely put some IBS patients in remission,” says Brenda Powell, MD, who practices at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine in Ohio.
Here are eight natural ways to find relief from IBS pain:
1. A Healthy Diet for IBS Symptoms
First off, “eat the healthiest, cleanest plant-based diet you can,” says Dr. Powell. Pile on the produce as well as whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, and wild and black rice, and eliminate foods high in sugar, artificial sweeteners, and saturated and trans fat, such as fatty meats, ready-made cookies, frozen pizza, margarine, and microwave popcorn.If that doesn’t help reduce or stop your IBS symptoms, try eliminating dairy products too and see how that affects you. Keeping a food diary will help you spot patterns. “I have some patients who just follow these dietary recommendations and feel great,” Powell says. A healthier diet alone may do the trick, and because you’re not restricting healthy options, it’s a regimen you can follow for life.
2. Probiotic Supplements to Help With IBS-Related Diarrhea
If you’re still having symptoms after cleaning up your plate, consider adding a probiotic supplement.
A review published in March 2015 in the World Journal of Gastroenterology looked at more than 1,700 patients and concluded that probiotics can reduce pain and severity of symptoms in people with IBS.
“Probiotics can be helpful for IBS-C and IBS-D,” Powell says. A probiotic supplement can help correct the abnormalities of the microbiome that can lead to IBS symptoms. “We’re trying to crowd the gut with good bacteria, which will hopefully improve bowel function,” Powell says.
She recommends a probiotic supplement with a combination of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, with 10 different strains between the two (check the label). Make sure the supplement has a minimum of 10 billion colony-forming units per capsule and look for a supplement that is enteric coated, which helps ensure the capsules will survive the trip to your small intestine. Otherwise, stomach acid can kill off the good bacteria before they get there, negating their effectiveness.
3. Psyllium Powder for Added Fiber
If your IBS symptoms persist after you clean up your diet and take a probiotic supplement for a few days, try taking psyllium powder, which is soluble fiber and the active ingredient in the fiber supplement Metamucil.
“There is a moderate quality of evidence for psyllium for overall symptoms relief,” says Kara Gross Margolis, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist and spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association.
According to a study published in September 2017 in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, psyllium supplements can help manage all three types of IBS. Stir a teaspoon of psyllium powder into your morning oatmeal or into a glass of water, and down the hatch. Whatever form of IBS you have, psyllium may help.
“If you’re constipated, psyllium powder helps move your bowels. If you have diarrhea, psyllium powder gives you something to form a bowel movement around,” Powell says.
4. L-Glutamine to Aid in the Function of Intestinal Tissue
IBS can cause the lining of your small intestine to break down, creating tiny openings that allow digestive by-products, called lipopolysaccharides, to slip through and enter your body. These uninvited guests can ignite the immune system, causing a generalized inflammatory reaction and symptoms such as achiness and fatigue. If your IBS makes you feel tired or achy, L-glutamine may be another over-the-counter supplement to try. It’s an amino acid, sold as a powder and found in food and supplements. An eight-week study published in August 2018 in Gut, of 106 adults with IBS-D, those who took oral glutamine supplements safely reduced all major IBS-related symptoms.
“L-glutamine can help the lining of your gut heal to correct the permeability issue,” Powell says. “I recommend taking 2 teaspoons at once, once a day.”
5. Acupuncture to Treat Chronic Pain
If constipation is your main IBS symptom, you may want to try the ancient Chinese medicine technique known as acupuncture.
“Acupuncture is really good for constipation and getting the bowels moving again,” Powell says. Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the skin at specific points to balance the body’s energy or life force, also called qi (pronounced “chi”), based on the principle that qi flows through pathways called meridians.
“Inserting needles into acupuncture points along meridians is thought to bring energy flow back into proper balance,” says Anne Mok, an acupuncturist and the co-owner of Cornerstone Healing in New York City. With IBS-C, acupuncture can help calm down the autonomic nervous system, which helps regulate your GI tract.
Acupuncture may even be helpful if you have IBS-D. A study published in June 2016 in Medicine found that electroacupuncture, a form that applies a mild pulsating current to acupuncture needles, was equivalent to loperamide in reducing stool frequency in patients with IBS-D. Loperamide, the active ingredient in Imodium, can provide temporary diarrhea relief so you can go about your day, but it’s not a long-term fix.
6. Deep Breathing for Stress Relief
Reducing stress with breathing exercises may also help calm down the gut nerves that are misfiring. A study published in Ailment Pharmacological Therapy involving 69 patients with IBS found that those who practiced deep breathing and other relaxation techniques for five weeks had fewer IBS symptoms than those who didn’t.
“I recommend 5-5-5 to my patients,” Powell says. That is, “smell the roses” by inhaling through your nose for a count of five. Hold that breath for five counts, then exhale through your mouth for a count of five or longer, as if you are blowing out candles on your birthday cake. “This breathing technique is very calming to the autonomic nervous system, which can help with IBS,” Powell says. Best of all, it’s portable. “You can do it anywhere, such as when you’re waiting in your car at a stoplight.”
7. Yoga for IBS Symptom Relief
The ancient practice of yoga has been linked with numerous health benefits. Some research suggests it can be helpful in managing IBS.
A study published in April 2015 in PLoS One enrolled patients with IBS in a relaxation-response-based program that lasted nine weeks. They participated in a number of activities, including breath work, mindfulness and yoga. The study found that a majority of the participants found symptom relief and improvements in overall quality of life. The results suggest that practicing yoga can lead to a more positive outlook on life, which in turn can decrease IBS symptoms.
8. Try Peppermint Oil to Help With Gas and Bloating
Peppermint oil has been used as an herbal remedy for a number of ailments for centuries. Recent studies suggest it can be helpful in alleviating symptoms of IBS like gas and bloating.
A review published in July 2014 the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, for example, found peppermint oil significantly improved symptoms of IBS, including abdominal pain. However, it could make heartburn worse so be careful how much you take. Talk to your doctor if you are thinking about trying peppermint oil since IBS is a complicated condition and she’ll need a complete picture of the remedies you’re using to determine an overall treatment plan.
Article first appeared on EveryDayHealth