Natural Alternatives for IBS

Studies show some natural alternatives relieve symptoms for irritable bowel syndrome

By Martin F. Downs
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Many people turn to natural treatments to relieve symptoms because there is no one treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that works for everyone, and because scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of the condition. Studies of some natural alternatives have had promising results, but none are proven.

Irritable bowel syndrome is not a disease. As the name implies, it is a syndrome -- a group of symptoms that fit a pattern. The main symptoms of IBS are problematic bowel movements, gut pain, and bloating. Some people who suffer from IBS have constipation, others have diarrhea, and some have both.

Before it was called IBS, the syndrome was usually known as "spastic colon." There is nothing physically wrong with the intestines of people with IBS, but the contractions that move food through the digestive tract may be disturbed. With IBS the nerves and the muscles in the bowel are extra sensitive. It's also thought that IBS sufferers may be particularly sensitive to the rumbling and burbling that goes on in the bowel during digestion. What you eat may play a role, too.

Christine Frissora, MD, a gastroenterologist at New York's Weill Medical College of Cornell University, says that before she writes a prescription to treat people who have the condition, she encourages IBS patients to try lifestyle changes. "They have to stop smoking, they have sleep, they have to eat properly, they have to exercise," she says.