IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a chronic disorder affecting the large intestine that can cause various symptoms, including abdominal pain, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea. It is important to note that unproven products or practices should not be used to replace conventional treatments for IBS or as a reason to postpone seeing a healthcare provider about IBS symptoms or any other health problem. It can be helpful to consider complementary health approaches such as psychological and/or physical approaches, probiotics, and dietary supplements. Still, it is essential to remember that many studies' quality is poor, so we can’t conclude their effectiveness.
Here are some additional points to consider regarding IBS and complementary health approaches:
- Although there isn’t firm evidence, some studies suggest that psychological and/or physical approaches, including hypnotherapy, may help.
- Psychological and/or physical approaches appear to be safe for IBS. Still, some dietary supplements studied for IBS can cause side effects, interact with medications or other supplements, or contain ingredients not listed on the label.
- Acupuncture has been investigated, but a 2012 systematic review reported that actual acupuncture wasn't better than simulated acupuncture. However, a 2009 clinical trial found that those who received either actual or simulated acupuncture did better than those who received no acupuncture.
- Hypnotherapy (hypnosis) has been studied for IBS, and several studies have found an association between hypnotherapy and long-term improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety, depression, disability, and quality of life.
- Mindfulness training has been shown to help people with IBS, but there's not enough evidence to draw firm conclusions.
- A small NCCIH-supported study found that young adults who completed a series of yoga classes reported feeling better and having less pain, constipation, and nausea compared with a waitlist control group. However, there is too little evidence to conclude the effectiveness of meditation, relaxation training, and reflexology for IBS.
- The placebo effect describes improvements that aren’t explicitly related to the treatment being studied but to other factors, such as the person’s belief that they’re taking something helpful. Placebo effects are often seen in IBS treatment studies.
- Peppermint oil capsules may be modestly helpful in reducing several common symptoms of IBS, including abdominal pain and bloating. Generally, probiotics improve IBS symptoms, bloating, and flatulence, but the quality of existing studies is limited. It’s impossible to draw firm conclusions about specific probiotics for IBS partly because studies have used different species, strains, preparations, and doses.
Your healthcare provider can advise you on the best approach to take. If you’re considering a practitioner-provided complementary practice such as hypnotherapy or acupuncture, ask a trusted source to recommend a practitioner and learn about their training and experience. Remember that dietary supplements may interact with medications or other supplements and contain ingredients not listed on the label.