Dec. 5, 2022 – A virtual yoga program could help patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) improve their symptoms, fatigue, and stress, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Previous studies have found that in-person yoga programs can improve physiological, psychological, and emotional health. With the growth of virtual options during the COVID-19 pandemic, an online yoga program could be helpful as well, the study authors wrote.

“IBS affects upwards of 15 [to] 20% of the North American population, and despite our advances in the area, we have very limited options to offer our patients,” says Maitreyi Raman, MD, the senior study author and director of Alberta’s Collaboration of Excellence for Nutrition in Digestive Diseases. 

“Often we are focused on treating symptoms but not addressing the underlying cause,” she says. “With advances around the gut microbiome and the evolving science on the brain-gut axis, mind-body interventions could offer a therapeutic option that patients can use to improve the overall course of their disease.”

Raman and colleagues did a study at the University of Calgary between March 2021 and December 2022, enrolling 79 people into either a yoga program or an advice-only control group for 8 weeks. They had an IBS diagnosis and at least 75 out of 500 points on the IBS Symptoms Severity Scale (IBS-SSS), which indicates mild IBS.

The research team looked for a reduction of at least 50 points on the IBS-SSS, which is considered clinically meaningful. They also measured for quality of life, anxiety, depression, perceived stress, COVID-19-related stress, fatigue, body symptoms, and self-compassion.

The yoga program was based on Upa Yoga, which is a type of Hatha Yoga that was developed by the Isha Foundation of Inner Sciences. The virtual program was delivered by a certified yoga facilitator from the Isha Foundation and included directional movements, neck rotations, breathing practices, breath watching, and mantra meditation with AUM/OM chanting.

Members of the advice-only control group were given a 10-minute video with general education on IBS, the mind-gut connection in IBS, and the role of mind-body therapies in managing IBS. The members of that group received a list of IBS-related resources from the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, a link to an IBS patient support group, and information about physical activity guidelines from the World Health Organization.

In the yoga group, 14 people (37%) had an IBS-SSS decrease of 50 points of more, as compared with eight people (20%) in the control group. These “responders” reported improvements in IBS symptoms, quality of life, perceived stress, and COVID-19-related stress. Among the 14 responders in the yoga group, there were significant improvements in IBS symptoms, quality of life, fatigue, body symptoms, self-compassion, and COVID-19-related stress. In the control group, there were significant improvements in IBS symptoms and COVID-19-related stress.

“When treating patients with IBS, it is important to think broadly and creatively about all our treatment options,” says Elyse Thakur, PhD, a clinical health psychologist at Atrium Health Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Charlotte, NC. 

Thakur, who wasn’t involved with this study, specializes in GI health psychology. She and colleagues have worked with numerous complementary and alternative medicine options.

“We also have to remember that different people may respond differently to available treatment options,” she says. “It is imperative to understand the evidence so we can have productive conversations with our patients about the pros, cons, and potential benefits and limitations.” 

Show Sources


American Journal of Gastroenterology: “Meditation and Yoga for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (MY-IBS Study): A Randomized Clinical Trial.”

Maitreyi Raman, MD, director, Alberta’s Collaboration of Excellence for Nutrition in Digestive Diseases.

Elyse Thakur, PhD, clinical health psychologist, Atrium Health Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Charlotte, NC.

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