The Most Effective Supplements for IBS

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on June 22, 2017Written by Chaunie Brusie on June 22, 2017

Overview

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause discomfort, pain, and disruption of everyday life. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, about 10 to 15 percent of the adult population in the world have IBS.

Currently there’s no cure for IBS. Living with IBS means managing your symptoms. Read on to learn about how over-the-counter supplements can play a role in that.

How is IBS treated?

IBS isn’t a life-threatening condition, but it’s a serious medical condition. The disorder is thought to be caused by many different factors, including changes in gut motility (contractions of muscles in the GI tract), an overgrowth of a certain type of bacteria in the small bowel, inflammation, and a “sensitive” bowel.

The symptoms of IBS include significant abdominal discomfort or pain, bloating, and irregular bowel habits like diarrhea or constipation. Doctors don’t know what causes IBS, which makes it difficult to study and treat.

Doctors mainly try to focus on helping people with IBS reduce their levels of abdominal discomfort, bloating, and irregular bowel habits. There are certain medications, like antibiotics and calcium channel blockers, that may help with IBS symptoms.

Supplements may help, too, but it’s important to choose them carefully. They aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for quality or purity. Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying any supplements.

Read on for some over-the-counter supplements that’ve been found to help with IBS.

Probiotics

Probiotics have long been considered for the management of IBS symptoms. Research shows that the probiotic B. infantis is associated with a reduction in IBS symptoms, especially abdominal pain, bloating, straining, and overall bowel satisfaction.

You do have to be careful when using probiotics for GI disorders, though. They can cause some symptoms in certain disorders to get worse.

Psyllium

Many doctors prescribe psyllium fiber as a way to help treat IBS symptoms. Psyllium is often used to treat Crohn’s disease as well. It helps absorb water in the intestines to help create more formed stool. It can help prevent constipation and diarrhea and make bowel movements more regular.

One study review examined if psyllium actually helps with IBS and found that reports are conflicted. Overall, it’s associated the most with helping to reduce abdominal pain and may also help reduce gas. Just like with probiotics, though, you do have to be careful when using fiber as a supplement. It can also increase incidences of bloating and gas.

Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil has been found to be one of the most effective over-the-counter supplements available in helping to manage IBS. One study from 2005 suggests taking 1 to 2 capsules of 80 to 200 mg of enteric-coated peppermint oil over a time period of 24 weeks should actually be the first line of defense in managing IBS over any other treatment.

For individuals who don’t have chronic constipation or diarrhea, peppermint oil was found to be associated with improving almost all symptoms of IBS.

Perilla frutescens

Perilla frutescens is a Chinese herb related to mint that’s been associated with improving GI health, especially symptoms of stomach rumbling, bloating, gas, a feeling of fullness, and overall abdominal discomfort.

Ginger

Ginger is another common supplement used to treat IBS. Research about it is limited, though. It’s known to be helpful against nausea and vomiting as well as reducing stomach pain and improving gut motility — which would lead it to being helpful for IBS.

Unfortunately, one study found that it didn’t perform as well as a placebo when researchers tested the effects of two grams of ginger a day. However, more research is still being done on ginger; it may prove to be a helpful supplement.

Magnesium

Over-the-counter medications that contain magnesium include magnesium hydroxide, magnesium sulfate, or magnesium citrate.

But while supplements like Milk of Magnesia can be used to relieve the occasional symptoms of constipation, they aren’t recommended for regular use and discouraged in people who may have kidney problems.

Takeaway

There are many options for managing the symptoms of IBS. In addition to exploring diet changes, like reducing fructose and increasing fiber, some supplements may help with certain symptoms of IBS, especially abdominal pain and discomfort.

Each person with IBS is different and may need different options to manage their symptoms. Talk with your doctor about which supplements may be best for you and your daily activities of living. A supplement that might work for someone else may not work for you, while another supplement that someone hasn’t tried may make a difference for you.

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