Can You Use Ayurvedic Medicine to Successfully Treat IBS?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a series of symptoms that typically affect the digestive tract and intestines. Common symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

While doctors generally can diagnose IBS quickly, they can’t always find a treatment. That’s because it’s not entirely clear why IBS occurs.

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Western medicine uses a combination of prescription medications and lifestyle changes to address the symptoms of IBS. Other approaches include acupuncture and holistic treatments like Ayurveda.

Read on to learn how Ayurvedic medicine might help treat symptoms of IBS, along with potential side effects and benefits.

What is Ayurvedic medicine?

Ayurvedic medicine is a centuries-old holistic approach to wellness that originated in northern India.

It’s a form of treatment that encompasses the well-being of body, mind, and spirit. It encourages you to consider all three when managing health issues.

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In Ayurveda, the body balances different types of energies, or doshas. The three doshas are:

    vata
  • pitta
  • dapha

Each of these doshas is responsible for a different part of your body. Vata, for example, controls bodily functions like eliminating waste and balancing electrolytes in the body.

If the three doshas are not balanced for any reason, you may experience illness or disease. You need to maintain balance within your doshas to maintain good health.

IBS is thought to occur when one of the doshas is unbalanced or when toxins are present.

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Ayurvedic medicine aims to restore balance. It does this through natural treatments so that the symptoms of IBS will be eliminated. It also aims to remove any toxins in the body.

First treat the Ama (or toxins)

In Ayurveda, the Agni (or digestive fire) is responsible for converting food into energy and nutrition. When you eat something, the food is held in the duodenum until it’s completely digested by Agni.

When digestion is complete, the food passes onto the next stage of digestion. If for some reason the food isn’t fully digested, you may become ill. This may signal that your Agni is weak.

As a result of the incomplete digestion, your body may develop Ama, or toxins. The symptoms of IBS may be the result of a weak Agni and the resulting buildup of these toxins.

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That’s why the first step in Ayurvedic medicine is to treat the Ama. Then, you treat the doshas.

Then balance the three doshas

With these treatments, you may see improving symptoms in a matter of days. But in some cases, it may take an extended period of time to treat the imbalance properly.

Since wellness relies on the equilibrium of all three doshas, they must all be balanced before you can feel restored.

Reset your digestive system with a bland diet

Initially, your Ayurvedic practitioner may suggest you eat a bland diet to help reset your digestive system. This diet may include soft, warm foods like basmati rice and light soups.

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The practitioner may also suggest a brief period of fasting. During this time, the goal is to let your body naturally eliminate the Ama while reducing irritations that may cause future symptoms.

What’s more, you may try drinking buttermilk. Popular in Ayurvedic medicine, buttermilk is thought to aid recovery and reduce symptoms.

Additionally, your practitioner may suggest you consume medicated ghee, or concentrated butter. Research suggests practitioners believe ghee helps stimulate the weak Agni.

Practice yoga for all-body wellness

Yoga, like Ayurvedic medicine, takes an all-body approach to wellness. The goal of yoga is to help increase strength and flexibility, but a supplementary goal is eliminating stress and reducing physical symptoms of ailments.

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Specific yoga positions or postures may be more helpful for eliminating the symptoms of IBS. These include Corpse position and Sun salutations.

Try meditation, massage, or aromatherapy to reduce stress

It’s not clear what causes IBS, but research suggests stress may play a significant role in who develops IBS and when symptoms worsen.

In Ayurveda, stress is the result of an imbalance in doshas. Anti-stress techniques, like meditation, aromatherapy, and massage, may help reduce stress. That, in turn, can eliminate or reduce symptoms of IBS.

Try herbal tonics to balance doshas

Herbal tonics and supplements are an important part of Ayurvedic medicine. Precisely which tonics you use will depend on the imbalance or dosha you’re aiming to treat. A practitioner can help you select the right one.

Can western medicine treatments for IBS be combined with Ayurvedic medicine for IBS?

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Prescription medication is commonly prescribed to treat symptoms of IBS, but no medication can completely eliminate the condition.

People with IBS typically take antidiarrheal, anticonstipation, and antispasmodic medications when symptoms occur.

Ayurvedic medicine is considered a holistic approach to illness treatment and wellness. In contrast to prescription medication, it aims to eliminate symptoms before they occur.

That’s why some practitioners are open to people incorporating Ayurvedic practices with their Western medicine, and vice versa.

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A combination of treatment may be beneficial for people who are seeking alternatives and holistic approaches to treatment.

What’s more, many elements of Ayurveda do not interfere with Western medicine treatments.

Those that might, such as herbs and tinctures, should be run by your practitioner or pharmacist before you take them. This can help you spot possibly drug interactions before they become problematic.

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If you’d like to consider using both types of treatment, talk with your doctor or clinician. Together, you can find a treatment approach that works for you.

What are the potential side effects or downsides of Ayurvedic medicine for IBS?

Ayurvedic medicine has been around for centuries. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s well studied. In fact, very few clinical studies have examined this type of treatment and whether it works.

What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies the tinctures and herbal remedies common in Ayurvedic medicine as supplements. That means they’re not tested or approved by the FDA.

If you decide to try this type of medicine, it’s important that you tell all your healthcare providers.

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In the event you need to add or change treatments for any condition, they need to be aware to watch for and prevent possible interactions and negative side effects.

Key takeaways

Though Ayurveda has been around for centuries, it’s not considered a mainstream treatment for IBS.

Many elements of this holistic approach to wellness and care can be applied easily, without much worry for side effects. However, that’s not always the case.

You should talk with your healthcare provider and a trained Ayurvedic practitioner to find the right treatment options for you.

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