Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that causes gas, bloating, abdominal pain and cramping, and changes in bowel movements.
Because IBS is a chronic condition, most treatments focus on managing symptoms over time. Some recommended treatments include medication, diet and lifestyle changes, and complementary and alternative therapies.
Chinese herbal medicine is an alternative therapy for IBS management. This article takes a closer look at Chinese herbs for IBS, its pros, cons, and safety.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient medical system that prioritizes holistic health and wellness.
A common practice within this system is the use of traditional remedies to maintain or restore balance in the body. This is also known as Chinese herbal medicine.
In China, herbal preparations have been used for thousands of years to successfully treat gastrointestinal problems such as IBS. Today, they are often used in conjunction with conventional medicine.
Some Chinese herbal formulas for IBS include:
With growing evidence from clinical research, these preparations are gaining acceptance in Western medicine.
For example, a
Another 2015 review evaluated 14 randomized controlled trials of TCM preparations for IBS, including Tongxie Yaofang and Shenling Baizhu. According to the authors, 12 of 14 studies concluded that TCM preparations improved overall symptoms compared to a placebo or conventional drug.
Along the same lines, a 2021 meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials found that Chinese herbal medicines were more likely than a placebo to adequately relieve symptoms.
On the other hand, the same study reported that Chinese herbal preparations were also more likely to have side effects than a placebo. According to the authors, most side effects were mild and no additional treatment was needed.
While these reviews are promising, a 2022 review reported that some systematic reviews of Chinese herbal medicine were biased or of poor quality. The authors argued that additional research is needed to confirm whether traditional therapies are safer and more effective than other interventions.
Chinese medicine may be able to help relieve IBS symptoms while causing less or less significant side effects. That said, there is still a risk of side effects.
More research needs to be done to clarify the risks and benefits of Chinese herbal remedies, including how they compare to Western medical interventions for IBS.
According to one of the
As with any substance, Chinese herbs can pose safety risks. In some cases they can be poisonous. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor before trying alternative therapies such as traditional Chinese medicine.
If your doctor says it’s safe for you to try Chinese herbs for IBS, the next step is to find a trained and certified Chinese herbalist.
The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) provides board certification for practitioners of Oriental medicine. You can use their practitioner guide to find a certified practitioner.
Your doctor should be open to working with your doctor to include Chinese herbs in your treatment plan.
As with any other recipe, follow your herbalist’s instructions carefully when purchasing and using Chinese herbs. Both your doctor and your herbalist should monitor you for side effects.
There are many treatments available to help manage IBS. Your doctor will recommend treatments based on your unique triggers and symptoms.
Diet and lifestyle changes are often the first step in treating IBS. These can be:
Your doctor may also suggest medications and/or supplements, such as:
In addition, a wide variety of alternative and complementary therapies are available for IBS, such as:
Some emerging therapies currently under review include fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) and serotonin antagonists.
Are Chinese herbs the same as dietary supplements?
Dietary supplements contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids and other extracts that supply missing nutrients.
Chinese herbs contain formulas and preparations that have been used in China since ancient times to treat various medical conditions and ailments.
It is important to note that some traditional preparations contain additional ingredients, such as minerals or animal components. You should ask a health care professional about ingredients.
Which Chinese herb works best?
IBS symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Certain Chinese herbal formulas are designed to help with specific symptoms; for example, diarrhea versus constipation.
It is important to speak with a qualified practitioner of Chinese medicine to learn more about which herbs may work for your symptoms.
How do I get my doctor on board with Chinese herbs?
Your doctor should listen to what you have to say with an open mind, address your concerns and questions, and respectfully explain potential risks and benefits based on the available scientific evidence.
They should also consider your specific IBS symptoms and any other health conditions or conditions you may have.
It is important that your doctor consider the benefits of other treatment options, but it is equally important that you listen to your doctor’s concerns about any risks or safety concerns associated with specific types of Chinese herbal medicines.
Where can I get Chinese herbs?
A trained practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine can provide you with a list of reputable brands and sellers. Many practitioners sell the products they prescribe themselves.
In China, herbs and herbal formulas have been used to effectively treat IBS for thousands of years.
Recent research suggests that these treatments may be effective and safe for specific types of IBS symptoms. When used in conjunction with conventional medications, they are more likely to relieve some types of symptoms.
As with any other form of medicine, Chinese herbs can have side effects. Due to their current lack of regulation, there is also a risk of ingesting other ingredients and even a risk of contamination from toxic compounds, including heavy metals.
Talk to your doctor to find out if this alternative therapy is right for you and your IBS symptoms.