Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Herbal Help?
Study: Some Traditional Chinese, Tibetan, Indian Herbal Medicines May Help
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 25, 2006 -- Some traditional Chinese, Tibetan, and Indian herbal
medicines may improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, researchers
The finding comes from a review of 75 studies on irritable bowel syndrome.
The herbal medicines that stood out in the review were:
- Standard and individualized Chinese herbal formulations including "STW
5" and "STW 5-11"
- A Tibetan herbal formula called "Padma Lax"
- An Indian formula of two unnamed herbs used in Ayurveda, a traditional
Indian health system
However, the review doesn't endorse or recommend any herbal medicines for
irritable bowel syndrome, since many of the studies weren't of top-notch
The report appears in The Cochrane Library, a health care research
journal. The scientists included Jianping Liu, MD, PhD.
Liu works at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine's Evidence-based Chinese
Medicine Centre for Clinical Research and Evaluation. He is also on staff at
the National Research Centre in Complementary and Alternative Medicine at
Norway's University of Tromso.
Helpful or Not?
The studies, which were mainly done in China, had a combined total of nearly
8,000 patients with IBS.
"Some herbal medicines may improve the symptoms of irritable bowel
syndrome," the researchers write.
For instance, IBS patients in nine studies either got herbal and
conventional medicines or conventional medicines alone. Those who got herbal
and conventional medicines reported greater improvement of their IBS symptoms,
the researchers note.
None of the studies reported serious side effects from any of the herbal
medicines. But the researchers note that that doesn't mean that the medicines
are safe for everyone.
Liu's team urges "caution" in considering positive findings from
studies with poor design, small numbers of patients, and unconfirmed
The researchers' main criticisms were:
- Most studies were of low quality.
- Various formulas were used.
- Many studies didn't check long-term results.
For instance, some studies compared herbal medicines with conventional
medicines, not all of which are proven to help irritable bowel syndrome. In
other trials, herbal medicines were compared with placebos, which don't contain
any conventional or herbal medicine.
Also, herbal medicines were often tailored to each patient, a typical
practice in traditional Chinese medicine. Using similar formulas would have
made comparisons easier, note Liu and colleagues.
"There is a great need for further rigorously conducted trials that look
to see whether it is possible to replicate these positive effects," Liu
says in a news release.
"For these trials to be useful, they must also improve the description
of the herbal medicines being tested," he says.
The researchers' bottom line: "Some herbal medicines deserve further
examination in high-quality trials," they write. Meanwhile, they call it
"premature to recommend herbal medicines for routine use in irritable bowel