"I look at it this way: I don't have a lot of great things in conventional
medicine to offer, so what I do have is in the realm of natural therapy," says
Tieraona Low Dog, MD, a clinician and professor at the University of Arizona
College of Medicine.
For someone with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, the constant urge to go to the bathroom can be uncomfortable and embarrassing; it's enough to make a person shun certain foods and situations.
The good news is that there are dietary changes people with IBS can make to ease the rage of the runs. And you needn't completely give up any foods.
"Moderation is important," says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) Guide to Better Digestion. It's important to maintain...
But that doesn't mean that all natural remedies touted as IBS fixes work,
and in some cases, research results have been mixed. What really works? Here's
what experts tell WebMD.
Probiotics for IBS
Probiotics are microorganisms that supplement the gut's natural bacteria,
helping to "balance" intestinal flora.
Why probiotics seem to work is still something of a mystery, but some
studies suggest that probiotic supplements, especially those with a
predominance of Bifidobacterium infantis, alleviate IBS symptoms like
abdominal pain, bloating, and bowel movement irregularity.
Lawrence Schiller, MD, a gastroenterologist in Dallas, says he's comfortable
recommending probiotic supplements to patients because probiotics don't do any
harm and seem to help some of them.
But Schiller is skeptical of the products on the market; he says most
studies of probiotics and IBS don't differentiate between bacterial strains and
doses, a conundrum for the consumer who is faced with shelves full of
probiotic-laced yogurts and milk in the market.
"The chances of going to the store and finding something viable and
effective is very much a long shot," he says. "The best evidence for probiotics
is with some of the combination products and some that contain bifida bacteria,
not acidophilus or lactobilli."
Prebiotics for IBS
Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that stimulate growth and
activity of microorganisms in the gut.
Prebiotics are naturally found in many foods, such as oatmeal and other
whole grains, and many fruits and vegetables, including artichokes, asparagus,
onions, and bananas.
Clinical studies have been small and few, and the results are mixed. One
study showed that IBS patients given a combination of probiotics and prebiotics
experienced a significant improvement in abdominal pain, bloating, and
constipation; another study showed prebiotics had no effect.
Fiber supplements for IBS
Research into the role of fiber supplements in treating IBS symptoms is
conflicting, with some finding no benefit, a few finding that added fiber to
the diet causes bloating and gas, and a handful reporting that soluble fiber
helps IBS patients with constipation and diarrhea.
A recent study found that psyllium, a soluble fiber, provided significant
pain relief for IBS patients with constipation and/or diarrhea. Another found
that psyllium has limited effect on constipation and abdominal pain.