Alternative Treatments for IBS
Breakthroughs in medical research mean doctors now understand—and can treat—irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) better than ever before. Still, you may not find complete relief through traditional medications, or drug side effects may have you searching for a gentler approach.
Several types of alternative and complementary therapies have shown promise against the symptoms of IBS. Be sure to tell your doctor before trying any of them. He or she will want the full picture of what you’re doing to manage your health—and may even be able to help you choose or use alternative treatments wisely.
You can’t see these tiny living creatures unless you have a microscope. They mimic the bacteria that normally live in your stomach and intestines. Some researchers believe an imbalance in these bugs can trigger IBS symptoms. Early studies suggest ingesting them in capsules, tablets, powders, or foods such as yogurt and kefir (a cultured dairy product), may restore you to equilibrium, improving symptoms.
Probiotics come in different strains, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Many more are now being studied. Your doctor can help you determine the best type and dose to try for your symptoms.
Ancient Chinese tradition holds that this therapy, involving small needles inserted at pressure points, influences a life force called qi. But Western doctors believe it may stimulate the release of certain brain chemicals that relieve pain.
Research has shown that some people with IBS benefit from acupuncture. However, just as many may benefit from so-called sham acupuncture—when people think they’re undergoing real treatment but aren’t actually pricked by the needles. These findings support the brain as the underlying source of relief, though experts note more studies are needed.
Plants and plant extracts have long been used to ease gastrointestinal pains. Some people use them alone, while others combine them into blends or take them alongside prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Commonly used herbal treatments for IBS include a Tibetan formula called Padma Lax, a Chinese blend referred to as TXYF, and peppermint oil. Though these products are viewed as natural, they can have harmful side effects, including muscle tremors. Talk with your doctor before adding them to your regimen.
Emotions like stress and anxiety can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms. That doesn’t mean your condition is all in your head—just that your physical and psychological health are more intertwined than you might think. When you have IBS, messages between your brain and gut may travel more quickly or slowly, or your nerves may react more sensitively to bodily sensations.
Mindfulness meditation, a type of therapy that encourages you to stay nonjudgmental and aware of the present movement, brought relief to people with IBS in one eight-week study. Many also turn to yoga, with its focus on movement and mindfulness. And hypnotherapy employs suggestion and a trancelike state to teach you how to relax the muscles in your colon.
Psychotherapy with a trained mental health professional may also prove helpful. Through a treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy, you can learn how to train your body and mind to react differently to IBS symptoms. Your therapist may help you use imagery, social strategies, and other techniques to control your thoughts and actions. Meanwhile, a type of talk treatment called psychodynamic therapy explores how your emotions impact your health.
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