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You might be wondering if you can treat IBS naturally. Although IBS has no known cure, there are several ways in which you can manage symptoms naturally.
In this article, we will discuss 11 ways to treat IBS, including fibre supplementation, diet modification, sleep optimisation, yoga and more.
WHAT ARE NATURAL REMEDIES?
Natural remedies are simply alternative ways to pharmacological treatment.
Pharmacological treatment is to treat or manage conditions with medications.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE USE REMEDIES TO TREAT IBS NATURALLY?
IBS is a chronic digestive disorder which can not be cured. Despite this, symptoms can be well managed through a variety of different ways.
Pharmacological treatment for IBS focuses on symptom reduction, which can sometimes be tricky. A mixture of pharmacological treatment and lifestyle changes may be needed to improve symptoms.
Choosing natural remedies is personal preference, however, some people may want to choose natural remedies over pharmacological treatments.
11 WAYS TO TREAT IBS NATURALLY
Below are 11 ways on how to treat IBS naturally.
All of the natural remedies mentioned below are backed with science and proven to have some benefit on IBS symptoms.
Please note that natural remedies cannot cure IBS, however, they can help to manage your IBS symptoms. Everyone with IBS is unique so there is no one size fits all approach
PEPPERMINT OIL CAPSULES
Peppermint contains menthol which is an active ingredient. It helps to relax smooth muscles inside the gut and ease abdominal pain (2).
Peppermint oil may also interact with serotonin and opioid receptors in the intestine. This can cause a relaxing effect in the GI tract (3).
In some cases, peppermint oil can worsen some symptoms. The most frequent adverse effect is heartburn. Other, less frequent adverse effects are (4):
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite
Research shows that psyllium husk has beneficial outcomes in both IBS-C and IBS-D. It works as a stool bulking agent because it absorbs liquid. It makes stools softer and easier to pass in IBS-C and makes stools more formed in IBS-D (7, 8).
When adding psyllium husk to your diet, you may want to start with a lower dosage and gradually increase. This will allow your gut to adjust to the increase in fibre intake. It is important to drink enough fluids when increasing fibre, if not, this can cause constipation.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT)
CBT is an effective treatment for IBS (11). One study showed that when CBT was provided over a 12 month period, 73% of participants had greater improvements in IBS symptoms in comparison to 44.3% in those who received usual treatment (dietary, lifestyle and medications) (12).
Click here to read more about CBT for IBS.
Gut-directed hypnotherapy can help patients to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. The therapy uses suggestions, visualisation, inducing warmth to the abdomen with hands and other techniques (13).
Research has shown that hypnotherapy is an effective approach with long-term results. One study found that gut directed hypnotherapy relieved IBS symptoms, improved psychological symptoms and quality of life (14).
British Society of Gastroenterology 2021 guidelines suggest trialing CBT and gut-directed hypnotherapy for IBS when pharmacological treatments have not been successful after 12 months (so-called refractory IBS) (15).
You can read more about ways hypnotherapy can help you compact IBS symptoms here.
Yoga is a type of movement that combines body postures, breathing exercises, and meditation (16).
One study has shown that practicing yoga twice a week for 12 weeks can be as effective as following the low FODMAP diet in reducing IBS symptoms (17). Yoga has been shown to improve IBS symptoms, anxiety and quality of life (17).
It is unknown as to how yoga helps to improve IBS. It is thought that deep breathing and relaxation has something to do with it and this is linked with the gut brain axis.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that have a positive effect on our health. Please be aware that probiotics are not the same as prebiotics.
Taking specific probiotics has been shown to reduce IBS symptoms such as (18):
Probiotics are one of the first-line treatments recommended by the British Society of Gastroenterology 2021 guidelines. They suggest taking probiotics for a period of 12 weeks and to discontinue if the symptoms do not improve (15).
Official guidelines have no recommendation for specific species or strains. So be cautious when choosing probiotics, it should be specific to your symptoms.
AVOIDANCE OF FOOD TRIGGERS
FODMAPs can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms due to (19):
- Poor absorption in the small intestine
- Osmotic activity
- Rapid fermentation by bacteria
During the restriction phase, IBS symptoms should significantly improve, if not then you are not sensitive to FODMAPs.
In the reintroduction phase, we introduce FODMAPs one by one and observe if any symptom occurs to pinpoint triggers.
The third phase is a modified diet which is where you modify your diet and only avoid your own personal triggers.
Mindfulness is defined as intentional present-focused awareness (20).
As the opposite of CBT, which aims to change negative thoughts and fear, mindfulness focuses on present moment thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations (20).
Research suggests that mindfulness can be an effective approach to IBS. In an 8-week mindfulness class, IBS symptoms severity, GI-specific anxiety, and quality of life were improved (20).
Sleep is an essential biological necessity that is vital for our health and well being.
Poor sleep quality contributes to higher IBS symptoms the next day, especially abdominal pain, anxiety, and fatigue (21).
In order to get healthy sleep, this requires adequate sleep duration (between 7-9 hours), a regular routine and optimising good quality sleep by practicing sleep hygiene (22).
Tips for good quality sleep (22):
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Limit caffeine intake (avoid in the late afternoon)
- Limit alcohol intake
- Go to bed in a quiet and dark environment
- Limit screen time
- Exercise regularly daily
- Manage stress levels to avoid over thinking at night
- Avoid daytime naps
Fibres are complex, nondigestible carbohydrates, present in the plant cell (23).
Diets rich in fibre are linked to better cardiovascular health and gut health. They are also associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer (23).
Although in some IBS patients, especially IBS-D, a high fibre diet can worsen gastrointestinal symptoms. Tailor your diet to the amount of fibre you can personally tolerate to avoid symptoms.
You can aim to get fibre from a variety of low FODMAP foods and specific fibre supplements (15). Research suggests that low fermentable fibre may improve bloating, flatulence, and abdominal distension (15).
Soluble viscous low fermentable fibres (like psyllium husk) were shown to have the greatest impact in treating IBS-C and IBS-D (23).
Another source of fibre for treating IBS-C is linseed. It is suggested to take up to 2 tablespoons of ground linseed a day (23). You can add linseed to a low FODMAP smoothies or mix it with low FODMAP yogurt.
One study showed that coffee can cause indigestion, pain, and loose stools in IBS patients.
Coffee may help you stimulate your bowels if you have IBS-C. However, in IBS-D it could worsen the symptoms so you should try to limit your intake (24).
There are many ways to treat IBS naturally.
Although IBS can not be cured, symptoms can be managed. This can be done by taking into account diet modification, sleep optimisation, regular movement, and mental well-being.
Please note that everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another. IBS management is about finding what works for you as an individual.
Written by Barbara Lešnik, Student Dietitian and reviewed by Serena Bansal Registered Dietitian BSc Hons
Serena is a UK HCPC Registered Dietitian with a keen interest in IBS and gut health. Serena graduated from Coventry University in 2021 with an upper second class in Dietetics and Human Nutrition.