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Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Complementary Health Approaches: What You Need To Know

On this page:

What's the Bottom Line?

What do we know about the effectiveness of complementary health approaches for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

  • Although there isn't firm evidence, some studies suggest that mind and body practices, including hypnotherapy, may help.
  • Researchers have investigated probiotics and a variety of dietary supplements for IBS. Some may improve IBS symptoms, but the quality of many of the studies is weak, so we can't draw conclusions about their effectiveness.

What do we know about the safety of complementary health approaches for IBS?

  • Mind and body practices appear to be safe for IBS.
  • Some dietary supplements studied for IBS can cause side effects, may interact with medications or other supplements, or contain ingredients not listed on the label.

What Is IBS?

IBS is a chronic disorder that affects the large intestine and causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.

More about IBS


What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Complementary Health Approaches for IBS

Some evidence is emerging that a few complementary health approaches may be helpful for IBS. However, the research is limited so we don't know for sure.

Mind and Body Practices for IBS

  • Acupuncture
    • For easing the severity of IBS, actual acupuncture wasn't better than simulated acupuncture, a 2012 systematic review reported.
    • A 2009 clinical trial included in the review found that of the 230 participants with IBS, those who received either actual or simulated acupuncture did better than those who received no acupuncture.
  • Hypnotherapy (hypnosis). Researchers are studying gut-directed hypnotherapy (GDH), which focuses on improving bowel symptoms. Several IBS studies have found an association between hypnotherapy and long-term improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety, depression, disability, and quality of life. The American College of Gastroenterology stated in a 2014 paper that there is some evidence that hypnosis helps with IBS symptoms, but the research is very uncertain.

More on hypnotherapy

  • Mindfulness meditation training. Some studies suggest that mindfulness training helps people with IBS, but there's not enough evidence to draw firm conclusions.
    • The American College of Gastroenterology stated in a 2014 paper that the few studies that have looked at mindfulness meditation training for IBS found no significant effects. But the authors noted that given the limited number of studies, they can't be sure it doesn't help. A 2013 review that included the same studies plus others concluded that mindfulness training improved IBS patients' pain and quality of life but not their depression or anxiety. The amount of improvement was small.

More on mindfulness

  • Yoga. In a small 2014 NCCIH-supported study, young adults (18 to 26 years old) reported generally feeling better and having less pain, constipation, and nausea after completing a series of yoga classes, compared with a waitlist control group. They were still feeling better at the study's 2-month followup.
  • There's too little evidence to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of meditation, relaxation training, and reflexology for IBS.

Placebos, Placebo Effects, and IBS

To understand the usefulness of any intervention, rigorous studies are needed to compare the approach being tested with comparable but inactive products or practices, called placebos. The placebo effect describes improvements that aren't related specifically to the treatment being studied but to other factors, such as the patients' belief that they're taking something helpful. Even how a clinician talks with patients may lead to a positive response unrelated to the treatment. Placebo effects are often seen in IBS treatment studies.

More about placebo effects


About Dietary Supplements for IBS

A variety of dietary supplements, many of which are Chinese herbs and herb combinations, have been investigated for IBS, but we can't draw any conclusions about them because of the poor quality of many of the studies.

  • Chinese herbs. In a 2008 systematic review, a combination of Chinese herbs was associated with improved IBS symptoms, but extracts of three single herbs had no beneficial effect.
  • Peppermint oil. Peppermint oil capsules may be modestly helpful in reducing several common symptoms of IBS, including abdominal pain and bloating. It's superior to placebo in improving IBS symptoms, the American College of Gastroenterology stated in a 2014 paper.
  • Probiotics. Generally, probiotics improve IBS symptoms, bloating, and flatulence, the American College of Gastroenterology stated in a 2014 paper. However, it noted that the quality of existing studies is limited. It's not possible to draw firm conclusions about specific probiotics for IBS in part because studies have used different species, strains, preparations, and doses.

More on probiotics


NCCIH-Funded Research

Recent NCCIH-supported studies of IBS have been investigating biological markers that show up in blood tests or brain imaging studies and may reveal which patients will benefit from specific treatments.


More To Consider

  • Unproven products or practices should not be used to replace conventional treatments for IBS or as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about IBS symptoms or any other health problem.
  • If you're considering a practitioner-provided complementary practice such as hypnotherapy or acupuncture, ask a trusted source (such as the health care provider who treats your IBS or a nearby hospital) to recommend a practitioner. Find out about the training and experience of any practitioner you're considering. For information about selecting a complementary health practitioner go to and
  • Keep in mind that dietary supplements may interact with medications or other supplements and may contain ingredients not listed on the label. Your health care provider can advise you. If you're pregnant or nursing a child, or if you're considering giving a child a dietary supplement, it's especially important to consult your (or your child's) health care provider.
  • Tell all of your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.


For More Information

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

Toll-free in the U.S.: 
TTY (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers): 

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

A service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the clearinghouse responds to inquiries and offers publications. For a list of publications on irritable bowel syndrome, go to

Toll-free in the U.S.: 


A service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals.

NIH Clinical Research Trials and You

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a Web site, NIH Clinical Research Trials and You, to help people learn about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate. The site includes questions and answers about clinical trials, guidance on how to find clinical trials through and other resources, and stories about the personal experiences of clinical trial participants. Clinical trials are necessary to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.

NIH National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus

To provide resources that help answer health questions, MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from the National Institutes of Health as well as other Government agencies and health-related organizations.

Web site:


Key References

All Other References



NCCIH thanks the following people for their technical expertise and review of the update of this publication: Wendy Weber, N.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., John (Jack) Killen, Jr., M.D., and David Shurtleff, Ph.D., NCCIH.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

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NCCIH Pub No.: 
Date Created: 
July 2010
Last Updated: 
March 2015