Turmeric is well-known for its ability to heal a wide variety of bodily ailments. It’s perhaps the most effective dietary supplement on earth. Curcumin, the primary active ingredient in turmeric, provides most of the notable health benefits with minimal side effects. But, what does the research say about turmeric for IBS symptoms?
Turmeric for IBS
We’ve seen research emerge, showing that turmeric can help several chronic conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and arthritis. When paired with a bioavailability enhancer like piperine, curcumin’s therapeutic uses become highly apparent.
Recent studies suggest turmeric may be able to help with IBS as well. In some instances, curcumin can reduce uncomfortable symptoms, including gas, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. To understand why it works, first, we need to examine IBS, what it is, and how to combat it in more detail.
What is IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)?
IBS is a common issue primarily affecting the large intestine. It’s rare when symptoms are severe. Most people can cope with their discomfort by reducing stress or managing their diets. In some cases, though, medical intervention is required.
While the primary cause of irritable bowel syndrome is still up for debate, there are a few noteworthy factors that we know play a role in its development.
- Abnormal muscle pain and contractions in the intestinal walls
- Irregularities in your digestive system nerves
- Inflammation in the intestines from heightened immune system response
- Changes in the “good” bacteria in the gut called microflora
Additional risk factors include being under the age of 50, being female, having IBS in your family’s history, and having a mental health problem such as stress or anxiety. (1)
There are a couple of key points we need to remember before moving forward.
Point #1: IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is NOT the same as IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). Although people may experience similar symptoms, those who suffer from IBS will not undergo the same levels of inflammation or tissue damage that IBD sufferers face.
Point #2: IBS is not typically associated with inflammation. But, we now have sufficient evidence to suggest that people with IBS can see an uptick in the body’s inflammatory response. This discovery gives a potential new treatment target. (2)
Why Turmeric Curcumin?
Studies show that curcumin possesses potent antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial activity. The antibacterial properties may help reduce the “bad” bacteria in the gut, one of the possible causes of IBS.
Additionally, turmeric’s best-known attribute is its ability to reduce bodily inflammation. Curcumin contains powerful antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Since intestinal inflammation is thought to be one possible cause of IBS, curcumin appears to combat this directly.
In this article, we’ll examine the science and research behind curcumin’s ability to reduce IBS and its related symptoms— abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, etc.
Turmeric and IBS: Can Curcumin Reduce Symptoms?
A study containing over 700 otherwise healthy volunteers sought to assess the effects of turmeric on IBS symptomology. The outcomes measured were IBS prevalence and IBSQOL, which stands for “symptom-related quality of life.” Self-reported effectiveness was also measured.
Among the volunteers, there was a one-tablet group and a two-tablet group. Here are the results:
- Between screening and baseline, IBS prevalence decreased by 41% and 57%
- Between baseline and after treatment, there was a significant drop of 53% and 60%
- Abdominal pain and discomfort reduced by 22% and 25% in a post-study analysis
- Significant improvements in the IBSQOL scales in both groups between 5% and 36%
The research also found that two-thirds of all volunteers with IBS reported improvements in their symptoms and experienced more favorable bowel patterns. (3)
Another study tested a combination of turmeric curcumin with fennel essential oil. The thought behind this duo was that turmeric could reduce inflammation while the antispasmodic effect of fennel can relax involuntary intestinal muscle spasms.
A total of 121 patients with IBS symptoms ranging from mild-to-moderate participated in a 30-day treatment period. The results indicated that the combination of curcumin and fennel were well-tolerated, safe, and induced significant IBS symptom relief. (4)
One research team estimated that IBS affects 10-15% of the world’s population. Anxiety, depression, and other stress-related psychiatric disorders are major contributors to IBS. Thus, researchers looked to identify how curcumin could improve the “brain-gut axis” in a rat model.
The results showed an apparent increase in measured serotonin levels in the rats. Behavioral testing also indicated a reduction in IBS symptoms through curcumin’s ability to regulate neurotransmitters. This benefit helped stabilize the signaling both in the peripheral intestinal system and in the brain. (5)
Further research examined curcumin’s therapeutic effects against a series of digestive disorders. In pre-clinical trials, turmeric showed potential to protect the GI tract (gastrointestinal tract) through its anti-inflammatory activity. It also showed an ability to decrease intestinal spasms related to stress.
While turmeric’s properties checked all the boxes, this study did not yield any statistically significant changes in the IBS group. However, it was able to provide symptom relief in 116 patients with dyspepsia (abdominal pain, flatulence, epigastric discomfort, etc.). (6, 7)
A meta-analysis analyzed five randomized and controlled trials. Three of the tests, including a total of 326 patients, found a beneficial effect using curcumin for IBS symptoms.
Again, it was turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that took center stage. Curcumin’s capacity to modulate gut microbiota also played an essential role in the studies. The results were not statistically significant, but the slight improvements in IBS were noteworthy. (8)
Final Thoughts on Turmeric for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Using turmeric for constipation, bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and other IBS symptoms may help provide relief with consistent dosing. A few studies indicate that significant benefits occur in patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms, as well as other gastrointestinal and digestive issues.
A few studies did not yield statistically significant results, but the properties of curcumin can skew treatment effectiveness in your favor. IBS is an uncomfortable condition with no one-size-fits-all cure. Since IBS can stem from several different causes, treatment options will vary based on the individual.
If you’re considering using turmeric for IBS, consult with a doctor or medical professional before treatment to make sure curcumin is the right fit for your situation.