Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be challenging. IBS patients are always on the lookout for new ways to manage their digestive symptoms, which can range from mild discomfort to severe pain.
In this article, we’ll explore the implications of IBS, discuss ways to manage its symptoms, and review the best supplements for IBS management. Let’s dive in.
Understanding IBS and Its Symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder affecting the lives of up to 15% of people in the United States alone. It’s a life-long medical condition that affects the entire digestive system, especially the digestive tract.
IBS is characterized by a series of uncomfortable symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal bowel movements
While IBS symptoms may vary from person to person, both in terms of frequency and severity, they’re usually triggered by specific foods, caffeine, alcohol, or stress.
The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome remains unknown; however, scientific evidence suggests that a combination of factors such as brain-gut dysfunction, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and even genes can increase the risk of IBS.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, chances are, you will live with this condition for the rest of your life. Instead of curing IBS, your doctors will focus on alleviating its symptoms and minimizing their impact on your daily life.
Treatment for IBS typically involves dietary modifications – IBS patients are encouraged to eat more fiber, cut their caffeine intake, consume less sugar, and abstain from alcohol. They’re also encouraged to follow a low FODMAP diet, but more on this later.
Lifestyle modifications, such as stress management, regular exercise, and plentiful sleep, may also help in treating IBS symptoms.
What’s more, supplements may help manage IBS symptoms. Let’s take a deeper look at supplements for irritable bowel syndrome.
Reviewing the Best IBS Supplements
If left untreated, irritable bowel syndrome can seriously impact your quality of life, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t lead a normal life.
It might surprise you to hear that supplements, along with dietary modifications and lifestyle changes, can offer IBS relief.
We’ve compiled a list of the best supplements for IBS. All of these are over-the-counter supplements that you can get at your local pharmacy. Let’s find out what they are, how they affect your gut health, and how they help treat IBS symptoms.
The power of psyllium fiber
Psyllium husk is a type of soluble fiber. It’s a common ingredient in most fiber supplements and for good reason. Psyllium fiber has been shown to improve stool consistency, regulate bowel movements, and reduce excessive straining.
Among the many fiber supplements formulated with psyllium husk, ColonBroom stands out as one of the best. Its high psyllium fiber content (around 85%) helps reduce bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, all of which are common IBS symptoms.
It comes in the form of powder – just mix a scoop with a glass of water, and you’re good to go. Make sure to read the instructions carefully, and don’t go over the recommended daily dose.
ColonBroom makes an excellent source of soluble fiber for patients with IBS C. It’s important to note, however, that ColonBroom doesn’t recommend their product for patients with IBS D.
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and are interested in ColonBroom, please make sure to consult a healthcare professional before taking any dietary supplements.
- A variety of flavors
- More expensive than other fiber supplements
- Unsuitable for IBS D
Understanding probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics
There is a link between the microorganisms that live in your gut (the gut microbiota) and gastrointestinal diseases like IBS. One study, for example, has shown that people with IBS have a low microbiome diversity which is a sign of an unhealthy gut.
Incorporating supplements that promote a healthy gut, such as probiotics and prebiotics, can potentially improve your IBS symptoms.
Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live bacteria or yeast that are most commonly found in fermented foods. Simply put, they’re good bacteria for your gut. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are foods or supplements that nourish the microorganisms in your gut, including the good bacteria mentioned above.
Synbiotics are foods or supplements that provide the combined benefits of probiotics and prebiotics. They contain both good bacteria and the fibers that nourish them.
Ther-Biotic Pro IBS Relief is a good option for those who want to try out both probiotics and prebiotics. It’s a synbiotic (prebiotic and probiotic) supplement that claims to help with gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
- No artificial coloring or flavors
- No artificial sweeteners
- Not suitable for vegans
Guar gum: the natural IBS aid
Guar gum is a highly viscous soluble fiber made from guar beans. While the research is limited, guar gum shows promise for treating IBS symptoms. One study suggests it may help ease constipation, a common symptom in constipation-predominant IBS (IBS C), and help regulate bowel movements.
Guar gum is also a thickening agent and can be used in the kitchen, making it especially useful for people with gluten sensitivity as it can substitute for flour.
Considering that a significant amount of IBS sufferers have some kind of gluten sensitivity, it’s a good idea to try to cut out gluten to see if there are any changes to your IBS symptoms, and guar gum can make cutting out gluten just a little bit easier.
What’s more, scientific evidence supports the idea that guar gum can improve digestive health by promoting the growth of good bacteria in your gut, though more research is needed.
If you want to try guar gum yourself, Guar Gum Powder by BulkSupplements is an excellent choice. It’s a single-ingredient soluble fiber supplement that can be used as both a thickening agent and a dietary supplement.
- Third-party tested
- Must be consumed immediately or will cause a choking hazard
- May cause bloating or other side effects
Soothing peppermint oil
Peppermint oil is one of the most commonly used essential oils. As an essential oil, it has been used for centuries, providing relief for digestive discomfort in Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt.
Nowadays, its uses for treating digestive discomfort have been scientifically proven, making peppermint oil an excellent remedy for those suffering from IBS symptoms.
When it comes to IBS relief, you should look for a specially formulated peppermint oil, known as enteric-coated peppermint oil. It’s designed to be able to pass through stomach acid intact, which protects you from side effects such as heartburn.
Enteric-coated peppermint oil reaches the small intestine and dissolves there, providing short-term relief. It needs to be taken orally, usually by consuming capsules.
Please note that enteric-coated peppermint oil is not an essential oil. Never consume peppermint essential oil internally.
- Can be used on a daily basis
- Contains vitamin D
- Effects can be seen within 24 hours
- More expensive than other supplements
The role of digestive enzymes
Naturally occurring digestive enzymes support digestive health by helping you break down food and aid digestion. There are many types of digestive enzymes; the main ones are amylase, protease, and lipase, which help with digesting starches, proteins, and fats, respectively.
Your body produces enzymes; however, you can also get them from supplements.
When it comes to treating IBS symptoms, the role of digestive enzymes remains unclear. One study suggests that supplementing with alpha-galactosidase, a digestive enzyme that helps break down galactooligosaccharide (GOS), can reduce IBS symptoms in people who are sensitive to high-GOS foods.
When it comes to digestive enzyme supplements, Flatter Me by HUM Nutrition is a good option to start with. It’s formulated with 18 full-spectrum enzymes, alpha-galactosidase included, and comes in the form of capsules for convenience.
- No artificial coloring or flavor
- No added sugars
- Third-party validated
- Only comes in the form of capsules
- More expensive than other supplements
The benefits of magnesium
Numerous studies have shown that magnesium citrate and magnesium hydroxide have osmotic laxative properties. This means they draw more water into the stool, making it softer and easier to pass.
Supplements that contain magnesium citrate or magnesium hydroxide can help treat constipation, a common IBS symptom, by softening the stool consistency and stimulating bowel movements.
Research has shown that individuals who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, such as Crohn’s disease or IBS, are at a higher risk of developing magnesium deficiency. Aside from treating constipation, supplementing your diet with magnesium may help you avoid mineral deficiencies.
Pure Encapsulations’ Magnesium (Citrate) is a popular dietary supplement formulated with magnesium citrate that can help relieve constipation. It comes in various forms, including capsules, powder, and liquid, adhering to everyone’s preferences.
- Suitable for people ages 18 and up
- May cause diarrhea and other side effects. Make sure to consult with your doctor before taking magnesium citrate for constipation.
Things to Consider Before Choosing the Right Supplement for IBS
IBS is different for everyone, which makes it difficult to find a remedy that works for everybody. Treating IBS is usually a process of trial and error where some supplements may have no effect, some may worsen your symptoms, while others may offer you temporary relief.
Here are a few factors to consider when choosing over the counter supplements for managing irritable bowel syndrome:
- IBS subtypes (IBS C, IBS D, and IBS M)
- Food allergies
- Medication interactions
- Dietary restrictions
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, always make sure to consult with a healthcare provider before making any dietary modifications.
Natural Ways to Relieve IBS
Prescription drugs are not the only way to manage irritable bowel syndrome. Here are a few natural remedies that can help treat IBS symptoms that you can try out.
Avoiding trigger foods
One of the first things your doctor will suggest you do after being diagnosed with IBS is dietary therapy. Identifying foods that trigger IBS symptoms is a good place to start.
A popular way to identify trigger foods is to go on a low FODMAP diet. FODMAP is a highly restrictive diet designed to help people with irritable bowel syndrome identify what foods trigger IBS symptoms.
It involves abstaining from high FODMAP foods. It’s a type of diet that restricts your consumption of certain carbohydrates, including, but not limited to:
- Some fruits (apples, apricots, mango, pear, watermelon, etc.)
- Some vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, onion, etc.)
- Legumes and lentils
- Wheat and wheat products
- Rye and rye products
It’s also recommended to avoid fatty foods as they tend to trigger flare-ups in many IBS patients.
You can also keep a food diary and write down how your body reacts to different types of foods, which will allow you to identify any food triggers or food intolerance.
Incorporate fiber into your diet
Dietary fiber plays an important role in maintaining healthy bowel habits and overall bowel health.
Eating more fiber provides many health benefits for those suffering from IBS, especially those with IBS C. Fiber adds bulk to the stool, making it softer and easier to pass, and can also be effective in treating diarrhea.
Doctors recommend IBS patients increase their daily fiber intake by 20–35g. This increase should happen by incorporating a variety of high-fiber foods.
Soluble fiber foods absorb water and thicken up loose stools, which can be useful for those with IBS D. Examples of soluble fiber foods include:
Insoluble fiber foods add bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass, which can help those with IBS C. Examples of insoluble fiber foods include:
- Whole-wheat products
- Nuts and seeds
When increasing your fiber intake, make sure to do so gradually. Consuming too much fiber too fast can result in gas and bloating.
Explore herbal remedies
Several herbal remedies have shown the potential to relieve IBS symptoms.
Ginger, for instance, has been used to treat numerous ailments for thousands of years, starting from stuffy noses to upset stomachs.
Studies have shown that ginger can reduce gas and bloating as well as improve digestion; however, there is hardly any research demonstrating its effectiveness in treating IBS.
Slippery Elm also shows promise in improving IBS symptoms. It’s a demulcent, meaning it can soothe the lining of the stomach, which can help reduce irritation down the entire bowel.
Try different stress management techniques
Several studies suggest that stress can worsen IBS symptoms. Finding stress management techniques that work for you can help you manage IBS symptoms.
There are many ways you can reduce stress levels. Some examples include:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Going for a walk
Remember, what works for others may not work for you, so keep experimenting until you find something that helps you relax.
Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms vary from person to person, and so does the treatment. Some may get their symptoms under control by simply adjusting their diet, while others require a more extensive approach that includes both prescription and over the counter drugs.
Fiber supplements such as ColonBroom can help prevent and treat constipation, diarrhea, and other IBS-related symptoms. Probiotics, guar gum, peppermint oil, and digestive enzyme supplements may also offer IBS relief.
Please make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements to help manage IBS.
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