IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, often accompanied by changes in bowel habits. Considered a functional digestive disorder, IBS is likely caused by a disruption in the brain-gut axis (the communication between gut bacteria and the nervous system). Low-grade inflammation and gut barrier permeability are also highly implicated in IBS symptoms.
Symptoms of IBS Include:
- Persistent abdominal pain
- Constipation alternating with diarrhea
- Mucus in stool
- Persistent sensation of feeling full
- Abdominal distention or swelling
Here’s a breakdown of the best supplements and vitamins to take for IBS symptoms, according to the latest research.
Natural Supplements for IBS
Functional medicine offers interventions for IBS that involve diet and specific lifestyle changes, as well as herbal remedies and supplements that naturally improve the health and diversity of gut bacteria, target low-grade inflammation, and fortify the gut barrier. Additionally, vitamins like D, E, and B2 contribute to overall gut health, while supplements like chamomile and ashwagandha address the gut-mind connection, reducing anxiety and stress.
Individual responses vary, so consulting a healthcare professional before adjusting your supplement regimen ensures personalized and effective support for managing IBS symptoms.
Peppermint Oil for IBS
Peppermint has been used as an herbal medicine for stomach pain and digestion since ancient Egypt.
The popular folk remedy may be especially helpful for IBS patients as it relaxes the muscles of the intestinal tract, reducing contractions that are too fast in patients with diarrhea-predominant IBS. In 2019, researchers analyzed the pooled data from 12 randomized trials. They found peppermint oil to be a safe and effective remedy for IBS symptoms.
Peppermint can alleviate symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas, and has been found in clinical trials to significantly improve quality of life. But of all the symptoms, peppermint oil is especially effective in reducing abdominal pain, as it can activate an “anti-pain” channel in the colon called TRPM8 and reduce pain-sensing fibers.
How to Use Peppermint Oil for IBS
You can steep peppermint leaves in tea, but it is most effective for stomach-related issues when concentrated into oil and taken orally in enteric-coated capsules, which allows it to pass into the intestine.
Probiotics for IBS
Probiotics are live microorganisms that support the trillions of bacteria in the body and help “good” bacteria thrive. As IBS is considered a brain-gut axis disorder, any natural supplement that improves the health and balance of our gut bacteria may benefit those with IBS.
That said, there are many probiotic strains that will affect each individual differently, so it helps to find a strain that was tested in clinical trials for your exact symptoms. Research on probiotics for IBS symptoms has mainly focused on two strains: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 has been found to improve symptom severity, quality of life, and perceived stress levels. Lactobacillus plantarum 299v showed similar improvements for IBS, especially for abdominal pain, flatulence, diarrhea, and constipation.
Bfidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 may also relieve IBS symptoms, notably pain, discomfort, bloating, urgency, and overall quality of life. Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 was found to alleviate abdominal pain, bowel dysfunction, incomplete evacuation, straining, and gas.
How to Use Probiotics for IBS
Although there is promising evidence for probiotics for IBS, it’s best to consult with your doctor or dietician to select the right probiotic strain for your specific needs. A broad-spectrum probiotic supplement will not target specific symptoms but may improve general gut health. You can also boost your gut health by consuming probiotic foods such as fermented foods like miso, kimchi, and yogurt.
L-Glutamine for IBS
Glutamine is an amino acid that plays a vital role in protecting the lining of the gastrointestinal tract – the mucosa. It does so by regulating tight junction proteins, which form the seal between adjacent cells of the mucosa, making up the barrier between the interior and exterior of the intestinal tube.
When tight junctions lose their structural integrity, it allows microorganisms to cross the gut barrier. This can trigger infection and inflammation, a condition many refer to as ‘gut barrier permeability’ or ‘leaky gut’. GI conditions like IBD and IBS are both associated with decreased expression of tight junctions and the resulting permeability.
Studies show that L-glutamine can improve post-infectious IBS and enhance the efficacy of the Low FODMAP Diet, although more research is needed to confirm the exact benefits of L-glutamine for IBS. Still, as the supplement improves gut barrier permeability and inflammation, it may offer general health improvements for most IBS patients.
How to Use L-Glutamine for IBS
Studies generally use 5 grams of glutamine three times a day, with the higher doses reaching up to 40 grams per day. As always, it’s best to consult with your doctor as they will be able to recommend the most suitable dose for your condition and background.
Curcumin for IBS
Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compound extracted from turmeric, famed for its manifold benefits to gut health. But can it help with IBS?
A 2018 meta-analysis found that curcumin was beneficial for IBS patients and relieved many of their symptoms. Curcumin likely works by reducing interleukin-6, a pro-inflammatory cytokine found high in IBS patients. Curcumin also exerts mucosal protective effects by increasing the expression of tight junction proteins.
How to Use Curcumin for IBS
When taking curcumin for IBS or any digestive symptoms, it’s important to purchase 95% concentrated curcumin that is not boosted in bioavailability. Curcumin products with high bioavailability will be absorbed into the bloodstream before the compound reaches the intestine. Non-boosted curcumin makes direct contact with the intestinal walls and therefore offers the most benefit to IBS patients.
Ginger for IBS
Ginger is an ancient remedy used for thousands of years to soothe nausea, arthritis, and the common cold.
Studies show that ginger can relieve various gastrointestinal symptoms, with natural pain-relieving properties that can also combat nausea and vomiting. Although more research is required regarding IBS, some patients may find ginger beneficial in soothing digestive discomfort.
How to Use Ginger for IBS
Ginger can be taken as a supplement or simply grated into a cup of tea for a more gentle dose.
Magnesium for IBS
How to Use Magnesium
When taking magnesium as a supplement for IBS, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional first, as there may be potential side effects on a higher dose. It’s recommended to take no more than 350 mg per day unless under your doctor’s supervision.
You can also add more magnesium to your diet with foods such as:
- Pumpkin and chia seeds
- Almonds and cashews
- Black beans
- Soy products
- Brown rice
Psyllium Husk for IBS
Psyllium husk is a soluble fiber derived from the seeds of the Plantago ovata plant. Studies show psyllium may relieve some IBS symptoms, including diarrhea and constipation. It has been found especially effective for children with IBS, as seen in a 2022 pediatric trial.
How to Use Psyllium Husk for IBS
It’s generally recommended to not go over the dose provided by the manufacturer and to take psyllium mixed with water or juice before eating.
Vitamins for IBS
A 2016 study found that IBS patients taking vitamin D for six months showed improvement in abdominal pain, distention, flatulence, and overall GI symptoms. Ensuring an adequate intake of vitamin D through sunlight exposure and/or supplements may positively impact overall gut health as well as alleviate mood changes and anxiety.
Vitamin E, with its antioxidant properties, may help combat oxidative stress in the digestive system. While more research is needed, incorporating vitamin E-rich foods or supplements could be beneficial for some individuals with IBS.
Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, plays a role in energy metabolism. The supplement is also one of the most effective vitamins for IBS diarrhea. Including B2-rich foods or supplements might be worth considering.
Best Supplements & Vitamins for IBS-related Anxiety
Anxiety and stress can exacerbate IBS symptoms, making it crucial to address both aspects for holistic well-being. This is because the gut and the brain communicate bidirectionally through intestinal microbiota and the nervous system, meaning the health of each does impact the other.
This communication is known as the ‘gut-brain axis’. IBS patients should be aware of this relationship, as researchers believe IBS itself may be caused by a disruption of the gut-brain axis, and therefore may be alleviated by stress relief techniques and herbal remedies like chamomile and ashwagandha.
Chamomile for IBS & Anxiety
Known for its calming properties, chamomile is a mild natural sedative that may help alleviate anxiety and promote muscle relaxation. Enjoy it as a tea or consider chamomile supplements to soothe both your mind and gut.
Ashwagandha for IBS & Anxiety
An adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha, has been used for centuries to combat stress and anxiety. Today, studies show that ashwagandha not only modulates GABA pathways, which help the body regulate stress signals but also lowers cortisol levels. As prolonged cortisol production can cause colon spasms and damage intestinal muscle, ashwagandha may alleviate IBS symptoms like cramping and abdominal pain.
A Tailored Approach is the Best Approach
While many supplements have shown promise for IBS, it’s important to consult with your doctor or dietician before making any treatment decisions as individual responses may vary.
Supplements and doses need to be tailored to each individual’s specific condition and personal needs, as no two bodies are the same and what works for one person may exasperate symptoms in another.