Complementary & Alternative Medicine

Patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) frequently turn to alternative and complementary medicine to help them manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.1

Alternative medicine is a term that means any medicinal products or practices that are not part of mainstream medicine given by medical doctors and allied health professionals, such as nurses or physical therapists. Alternative medicine is also defined by its use as an alternative to traditional medical care. Complementary medicine is used in combination with traditional medicine.

There have been research studies on many alternative and complementary medicine practices to determine their effectiveness in treating a range of conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome. Alternative and complementary medicine are not reviewed by the FDA. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctor about all therapies and practices they are using to manage their symptoms.2

Alternative and complementary medicine approaches for IBS include:


Acupuncture is the use of thin needles inserted through the skin at strategic points on the body. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine and is most often used to treat pain.3 Acupuncture has been studied as a treatment for IBS in clinical trials, and some trials have demonstrated that patients may benefit from acupuncture and get relief from their symptoms.4

Herbal and homeopathic remedies

Herbal remedies refer to the use of plant and plant extracts. Homeopathy is the practice of treating patients with the smallest amounts of substances, which may include herbal remedies, and is a holistic practice that seeks to cure the patient on the physical, mental and emotional levels. One of the most clinically studied herbal remedies for IBS is peppermint oil.1


Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis, or a trance-like state during which the patient has a heightened focus and concentration. Hypnosis is usually done with a licensed therapist in order to help the patient gain control over certain behaviors or cope more effectively with anxiety or pain.5 Hypnotherapy has been proven to be effective in reducing and managing the symptoms of IBS through clinical trials.1


Biofeedback is a technique that can be learned to exert more control over the body’s functions, such as heart rate. During a session, the patient is connected to electrical sensors that monitor the body’s functions and provide information (feedback). Studies have shown biofeedback to be useful in reducing symptoms and symptom severity from IBS. In addition, it can be a cost-effective treatment.6

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: September 2021