The benefit of natural remedies compared to prescription medicines is fewer side effects and long-term safety concerns. However, prescription medicines have often undergone testing for safety and effectiveness in trials. Natural remedies should be considered a complementary therapy.
At home, you may also have access to telehealth services. These can also be used to treat symptoms of IBS.
1. Herbs for IBS
Several herbs may relieve abdominal pain and bloating, and general symptoms of IBS:
- Peppermint Oil: is the first herb to be approved by the American College of Gastroenterology for treating IBS. Peppermint oil is thought to relax the muscles of the gut to improve motility (the passage of food through the gut). Studies show the herb is more effective than antispasmodic medication. (1, 2)
- Ginger: is a plant that may reduce gas and bloating. The active ingredient, gingerol, has antibacterial, antiemetic, and sedative properties that may reduce pain and restore gut function. However, there is no current scientific explanation for how Ginger improves IBS symptoms and more research is needed. (3, 4)
- Aloe vera: Often sold as a juice, aloe vera is thought to treat symptoms of diarrhea and constipation. The anti-inflammatory properties of Aloe vera are thought to reduce inflammation in the gut. There is mixed scientific evidence as to whether Aloe vera is effective, and the herb should be considered a complementary therapy. (5, 6)
Herbs for IBS-C
Some herbs are thought to quiet down symptoms of constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C). Among them:
- Herbal laxatives: containing anthraquinones, such as senna, cascara, rhubarb and frangula may to stimulate bowel movements. However, this herb has not been well studied. (7)
- Slippery elm: in powdered form powder may soothe heartburn and mild stomach discomfort. This herb may relieve constipation in people with IBS-C, according to a small study. (8)
- Triphala: is made from the fruit of the Amalaki tree and thought to reduce constipation, abdominal pain and bloating. (9)
Herbs for IBS-D:
Certain herbs have been shown to relieve symptoms of diarrea-predominant IBS (IBS-D). These include:
- Chamomile: comes from the daisy-like plant and can be consumed in tea, or as a liquid or capsule. It is thought to reduce spasms in the gut causing pain, according to a small study. (10)
- Berry leaf teas: including those made from blueberry, blackberry or raspberry contain tannins which may decrease inflammation. These teas may reduce symptoms of diarrhea (11)
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2. Herbal supplement - Iberogast
Iberogast is a herbal formulation, consumed in a capsule, to treat IBS. It was developed in Germany and has a long history in medicine of over fifty years. It is also known as ‘STW-5’ and the active ingredients include:
- Bitter candytuft
- Dried angelica root
- Dried chamomile flower head
- Dried caraway fruit
- Milk thistle dried fruit
- Dried balm leaf
- Dried peppermint leaf
- Dried celandine
- Dried liquorice root
Iberogast improves digestive health through at least two mechanisms. The bitter candytuft increases intestinal muscle tone, and the other compounds prevent intestinal spasms. Iberogast may also stimulate bile production (a liquid for digesting fats) and increase motility (movement of food through the intestines). (12, 13)
3. Low FODMAP diet
The low FODMAP diet relieves symptoms of IBS at home, according to several studies. (14, 15) This diet eliminates foods contain compounds known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) that are poorly absorbed in the gut. The problematic foods include:
- Dairy products: milk, yoghurt, ice-cream, cheeses
- Vegetables: such as onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms.
- Sweeteners: honey, sorbitol, high fructose corn syrup
- Wheat: breads, cereals, pastas, crackers
- Fruits, such as peaches, apples, pears, apricots, cherries, blackberries
The diet is split into two phases. Foods high in FODMAPs are first eliminated for two weeks. Then, food items are slowly re-introduced, one by one and those causing symptoms are permanently removed from the diet. You may wish to consult a dietitian when adopting the low FODMAP diet. This will ensure you can receive complete nutrition even though you are eliminating many foods. (16)
4. Eat more (or less) fiber
Fiber is known to ‘clean up’ the bowels and improve some symptoms IBS. Fiber can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. It can also be taken as a supplement such as Metamucil or Citrucel. The active ingredient in Metamucil is psyllium powder, shown in a 2017 study to benefit all three subtypes of IBS. (17)
However, some patients may benefit from a low-fiber diet to reduce cramping and abdominal pain. High-fiber foods are also high in FODMAPS, which contribute to some IBS symptoms. (18) The best approach is to slowly increase the fiber in your diet over a period of several weeks and observe any changes in symptoms.
5. Probiotics and prebiotics
Pro-biotics are specific strains of ‘good’ bacteria that are thought to improve digestive health. They can be taken as supplements, or found in foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, kefir, and Kombucha.
By improving gut health probiotics may improve IBS symptoms. Probiotic supplements that contain lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, have been shown effective in some studies. (19, 20)
Pre-biotics are essentially food for ‘good bacteria’ living in the gut. People with IBS have lower levels of bifidobacetria, and prebiotics elevate levels of this bacteria to normal. (21) Prebiotics are found naturally in many foods such as:
- Oats, wheat products and wholegrains
Studies have shown prebiotics improve symptoms such as bloating and flatulence. A combination of probiotics and prebiotics improves abdominal pain, bloating and constipation. (22)
6. Lower your stress levels
Taking the time to relax at home can be a wonderful treatment for IBS. Stress can be a big contributor to IBS symptoms. (23) Learning how to manage it can really help alleviate symptoms, and the following techniques have been shown effective:
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Focusing on one part of the body at a time and relaxing it, this technique may calm the misfiring signals of the gut. This and other practices of meditation have been shown effective by research. (24)
- Visualization/positive imagery: Imagining you are in a tranquil and peaceful place, surrounded by beauty helps to focus attention away from sensations in the body. This therapy helps guide you away from sensations in the body that worsen IBS. (25)
- Deep breathing: Breathing exercises can also help calm down the nerves that are misfiring in IBS. A study from 2013 found that those who tried deep breathing exercises reported fewer IBS symptoms than those who didn’t. (26)
Exercise is thought to ease IBS symptoms. The release of natural painkiller endorphins may improve abdominal pain, and other symptoms. Additionally, exercise has been shown to lower rates of depression and anxiety, known to overlap with IBS. (27, 28)
A 2018 study found that low- to moderate-intensity exercise can improve symptoms. On the other hand, those who were less physically active show more severe symptoms. (29)
Yoga has been shown to relieve symptoms of IBS by helps you become more ‘in-touch’ with your senses and developing a positive feeling. Research suggests that yoga helps to restore normal signals in the nervous system. (30)
Pranayama (breathing control) yoga helps people with diarrhea-predominant IBS by increasing levels of sympathetic tone. Savasana (complete relaxation) yoga help de-stress your body and provides a temporary escape from all your anxiety and stress, reducing IBS symptoms. Yoga can be practiced at-home with the aid of online instructional videos. (31, 32)
Mental health therapies can be effective at managing IBS symptoms. The gut and brain talk to one another through nerve signals, and treating the mind can improve digestive symptoms. (33)
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) helps patients to understand and improve the relationship between thoughts, emotions and actions. This reduces stress, negative feelings and false perceptions.
CBT can be adapted to improve symptoms of IBS. Here, the patient is guided to identify negative attitudes towards symptoms such as abdominal pain that may worsen the condition. This treatment is available as an at home through online programs. (34, 35)
10. Online Hypnotherapy
Online programs like Nerva allow hypnotherapy to be accessible from home. This treatment works to relax the tightness of intestinal muscles through guided relaxation and suggestive imagery. (36)
Hypnotherapy begins with closing your eyes and performing a progressive muscle relaxation. Then, suggestive of contents of your gut flowing easily is presented. This helps to ease the symptoms of IBS.
The basic aim of hypnotherapy is to equip you to manage your response to gut function effectively. Also, hypnotherapy works to relieve anxiety and depression and may also enhance cognitive function.
Studies have shown that 6-weeks of hypnotherapy reduces IBS symptoms equally to a strict elimination diet. And online therapy on Skype has been shown almost as effective as in-person treatment. (37)
11. Bonus tip: Go easy on laxatives
Over-the-counter medications can improve IBS symptoms or make them worse. The Mayo Clinic recommends caution when taking IBS medications for diarrhea such as Imodium, or constipation such as polyethene glycol (also called Miralax). (38)
There are many natural ways you can treat symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome from home. This saves the need to purchase over-the-counter medications or prescription medications. Safe and effective home remedies include herbal supplements, dietary changes, exercise and relaxation techniques. These benefit the wellbeing of IBS patients by restoring the digestive system to normal function. However, it is also advisable to seek the advice of a gastroenterologist to assess symptoms of IBS.