You may be wondering what supplements would be useful to help manage symptoms of IBS. There are many to choose from and these can be individual nutrients through to complexes specifically designed to help repair or soothe the gut.
Here are my top five supplements for the management of IBS and the associated symptoms:
- Saccharomyces boulardii is a probiotic, in other words a friendly organism. Unlike other probiotics which are bacterial in origin, Saccharomyces boulardii is a type of inactive yeast. It may be more commonly known as brewer’s or baker’s yeast. It is widely known for being beneficial for gut health as it helps to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria. Saccharomyces boulardii is effective as a preventative therapy for those taking antibiotics (which are notorious for depleting our friendly gut bacteria) and for traveller’s diarrhoea. It supports the barrier function in the gut and improves gut immune function. In the management of diarrhoea-predominant IBS, Saccharomyces boulardii has been shown to be a helpful supplement by improving stool consistency and reducing abdominal pain due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties at a dose of 2 billion CFU twice daily for eight weeks.
PHGG (partially hydrolyzed guar gum):
- PHGG is a type of natural dietary fibre and prebiotic which feeds and stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. It is a white powder which is water soluble, virtually tasteless and very stable, which means that it survives many environments such as heat, acid and digestive enzymes. Studies have shown PHGG to be a safe and effective supplement in the management of IBS and other functional gut-related disorders. It can help to regulate bowel movements and improve symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating. It is recommended to introduce PHGG gradually to avoid any digestive side effects, starting with 1g daily mixed into at least 200 ml of water (on an empty stomach), increasing up to a maximum of 5g daily as tolerated.
- Digestive enzymes are produced naturally to help break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins into smaller molecules ready for absorption in the body. If we don’t break down our food properly then this can lead to maldigestion and malabsorption which can cause many symptoms such as reflux, bloating, abdominal pain, cramping and wind. Digestive enzyme supplements can be used to aid digestion and give relief of IBS symptoms. Supplements to look for are those containing several different enzymes so that all food groups are broken down. These may include ingredients such as bromelain, papain, lipase, lactase, glucoamylase, amylase, protease, cellulase, phytase, sucrase and maltase. It is recommended to take digestive enzymes just prior to or with each meal.
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a key role in supporting a healthy immune system, amongst other important functions in the body. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties which makes it an important vitamin for supporting a healthy gut, essential for sufferers of gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS. It can influence the function and motility of the gut which can contribute to IBS symptoms such as constipation and/or diarrhoea. Whilst vitamin D can be absorbed directly through the skin with daily exposure to sunlight, it is unlikely that you will get enough vitamin D throughout the winter months and so supplementation may be required. As a rough guide, it is estimated that supplementation of 1000iu (25mcg) per 25kg body weight should meet requirements. However, as there are many individual factors to take into account, it is advisable to have a vitamin D test first to ensure effectiveness and safety. Studies indicate that an optimal level of vitamin D to aim for is between 100-150nml/L to provide defence against disease.
- Magnesium citrate is a type of magnesium which is easily absorbed in the body and produces laxative effects. This may be a beneficial supplement for those suffering with constipation, such as in IBS-C (constipation-predominant IBS). Constipation can be painful, uncomfortable and stools can be hard to pass. Magnesium citrate is what’s known as an osmotic laxative, meaning that it helps the bowel to relax and draws water into the intestine. This helps to soften the stool, bulk it up and make it less difficult to pass. Unless you take a high dose of magnesium citrate, it is generally well tolerated and safe to use, although if you still experience ongoing constipation after a few days’ use you should always seek medical advice.
You should always consult with a healthcare professional for guidance on supplements to ensure safety and correct dosing. If you are taking any prescribed medications, you must speak with your medical practitioner prior to considering any form of supplementation.
El Amrousy, D., Hassan, S., El Ashry, H., Yousef, M., & Hodeib, H. (2018). Vitamin D supplementation in adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome: Is it useful? A randomized controlled trial. Saudi journal of gastroenterology : official journal of the Saudi Gastroenterology Association, 24(2), 109–114. https://doi.org/10.4103/sjg.SJG_438_17. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5900470//
Gayathri R, Aruna T, Malar S, Shilpa B, Dhanasekar KR. Efficacy of Saccharomyces cerevisiae CNCM I-3856 as an add-on therapy for irritable bowel syndrome. Int J Colorectal Dis. 2020 Jan;35(1):139-145. doi: 10.1007/s00384-019-03462-4. Epub 2019 Dec 5. PMID: 31807856. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31807856/
Niv, E., Halak, A., Tiommny, E., Yanai, H., Strul, H., Naftali, T., & Vaisman, N. (2016). Randomized clinical study: Partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG) versus placebo in the treatment of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Nutrition & metabolism, 13, 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12986-016-0070-5. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4744437/
Nutrition I-Mag. (2020) ‘Vitamin D – The Vital Vitamin’, Nutrition I-Mag, Issue September/October 2020, pp.21-27.