Natural herbs and supplements are a great way to help manage common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gastrointestinal issues.
These key supplements and natural remedies can be used alone or in combination with each other to help relieve your pain and improve your quality of life.
They all have different health benefits, as well as side effects, so it’s important that you talk to your health practitioner about the different supplement options and whether they might work for you.
Fiber is found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Fiber helps to keep your gut healthy by regulating stool form and frequency.
Getting more fiber in your diet can reduce bloating and gas, as well as relieve constipation from IBS. It helps to move food through your system more quickly so that it doesn’t linger long enough to cause discomfort or gas.
25-30 grams a day is the recommended daily fiber intake, which is not typical of a Western (American) diet. Fiber supplements can help increase your fiber intake.
Supplements come in a variety of formulations and are available over-the-counter, as well as through prescriptions. There are fiber powders, pills, and gummies.
Some available options online include:
If taking fiber supplements, make sure to drink lots of water for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
2. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil supplements have been shown to provide relief for many people suffering from digestive problems, including IBS. It can help with diarrhea, constipation and pain.
Peppermint contains menthol, an ingredient known to relax digestive tract muscles and ease cramps. There may also be an anti-inflammatory benefit to your gut lining.
The best part? You don’t need a prescription!
Peppermint alone can sometimes worsen acid reflux or heartburn, so there are several formulations on the market now which are designed to reduce this by a delayed release or capsule coating.
You can find enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules at most supermarkets and pharmacies without a prescription. They’re also sold online.
There are a few peppermint oil options available online:
3. Herbal Teas
Tea is one of the oldest forms of herbal medicine around and it helps ease digestion and can have a calming effect on stomach pain.
Herbs such as chamomile, ginger root, fennel seed, dandelion leaf, lemon balm, mint leaves, rosemary, sage, thyme, and others have been traditionally used to treat stomach ailments since ancient times.
Many studies show that drinking tea regularly can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Some herbal teas may contain senna, which can stimulate bowel contractions and help with constipation.
Tea contains caffeine, a bowel irritant, so it can exacerbate symptoms if taken too frequently. Drinking decaf teas are a good option if caffeine stimulates bowel movements.
If you do choose to drink herbal teas, try them in small doses first before increasing amounts.
Read more about Green Tea and IBS.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is another natural remedy often touted for its ability to improve gastrointestinal health.
The theory behind ACV being helpful for IBS is that vinegar increases gastric secretions, helping to wash out toxins and bacteria from the intestines. This could potentially decrease inflammation and promote healing.
It should be noted though that some research shows that apple cider vinegar does not appear to work better than placebo when treating IBS.
In small quantities, it is unlikely to be harmful, so it may be worth a try to see if any of your symptoms improve. As with most medications and supplements, if it’s not helping, stop using it.
Read more about IBS and apple cider vinegar.
Ginger helps reduce abdominal discomfort caused by IBS and helps relieve nausea and vomiting. It is often used for nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy.
In one study, ginger has been shown to relieve abdominal pain related to diarrhea predominant IBS (IBS-D). Ginger helped relieve intestinal hypersensitivity of IBS-D by inhibiting proinflammatory response.
It appears to be safe and well tolerated, but more large scale clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings.
Ginger supplements come in many forms, like tablets or capsules, hard candies, chews, and teas.
6. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is an herb native to Mediterranean countries that has long been known to support liver function. Milk thistle has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help to protect the liver.
It is thought to protect against damage done by chemicals found in tobacco smoke, alcohol, drugs, pesticides, radiation, and other environmental pollutants.
More research needs to be conducted on this supplement, however, because there is no strong evidence showing how effective it is at relieving IBS symptoms.
The current evidence is not strong. It can also have a number of GI side effects like nausea, diarrhea, gas and bloating.
There is growing interest in probiotic supplements for people who suffer from digestive disorders, including IBS.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that benefit our gut flora balance and aid digestion. They are believed to restore healthy levels of “good” bacteria in the intestine and reduce levels of “bad” bacteria, thus improving overall digestive health.
They are commonly sold over the counter as dietary supplements in capsule form, but can also be in powder form to sprinkle on food. Some yogurt contains probiotics.
They are generally considered safe, although certain strains can cause antibiotic resistance.
Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are the two main probiotic strains that are recommended for gut health. A few of our favorites can be found online:
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates (sugars) that feed beneficial microbes in the colon. Prebiotics are often used together with probiotics to enhance their effectiveness.
They can be found in fruits and vegetables, such as onions, garlic, bananas, and whole grains.
Prebiotic supplements also come in capsule, powder form, and gummy formulations.
Align also makes DualBiotic, which is a combination of prebiotic and probiotic supplements in gummy form. Find that online here.
- University of Wisconsin: Tea and Health: Studies in Humans
- NBCBI: The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data
- UNC Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders: Is ginger effective for the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
- NIH: Ginger relieves intestinal hypersensitivity of diarrhea predominant irritable bowel syndrome by inhibiting proinflammatory reaction
- NCBI: Milk Thistle: Effects on Liver Disease and Cirrhosis and Clinical Adverse Effects