Can Yoga Treat IBS Symptoms? Studies Show Yoga May Offer IBS Relief
People who deal with high levels of stress are often plagued by abdominal pain, constipation and/or diarrhea, bloating, and changes in stool appearance. These unpleasant symptoms may be signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Stress and psychological disorders may instigate the onset and persistence of IBS symptoms.
Stress is believed to alter the interaction between the brain and gut, leading to gastric distress. Recent research suggests that yoga may have a positive effect on this brain-gut interaction, which leads to a reduction in IBS symptoms with fewer side effects than standard treatment.
A group of scientists set out to determine the safety and efficacy of yoga as a treatment for IBS. They conducted a systematic review of six randomized, controlled trials with a total of 273 participants to assess the effects of yoga on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), pain, quality of life, mood, stress, and safety. (1)
Based on the evidence from these six trials, they concluded that yoga appears to be a safe and beneficial adjunctive treatment for IBS. The results of their review were published in the December 2016 issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Through their review, the scientists aimed to explore whether yoga can provide relief for IBS due to its impact on the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga reduces the impact of stress on the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “relaxation response.”
The authors only included in their review trials which investigated the impact of yoga on Irritable Bowel Syndrome through one or more of the following means: postures, breath control, meditation, and/or lifestyle advice based on yogic theory or traditional yoga practices. The trials looked at yoga in comparison to a control group receiving no treatment, exercise, medication, or a placebo.
Yoga for Irritable Bowel Syndrome vs. No Treatment
Three studies compared a yoga intervention with no treatment. All three showed that yoga was significantly more effective in reducing IBS symptoms than no treatment at all.
In one study, the yoga group showed measurable improvement in IBS symptom severity, quality of life, and anxiety and depression scores, in comparison with a control group. The yoga group also took less medicine and fewer supplements (such as psyllium, fiber drinks, herbal teas, and probiotics).
In another trial, teenagers who were part of the yoga for IBS group reported lower levels of functional disability and anxiety than did the control group teens.
Adolescents in another trial showed improvements in physical functioning compared with the control group, while young adults who practiced yoga reported an improvement in IBS symptoms, psychological distress, sleep quality, disability, and fatigue.
Yoga for IBS vs. Exercise, Medication, and Placebo
One study compared a yoga intervention with a walking program, while two others compared yoga with various medications and a placebo. In all three studies, no significant differences were observed between the yoga group and the control group. Thus, it appears that yoga is just as effective as exercise and medication for the relief of IBS symptoms.
The review’s authors emphasized that the six trials reviewed had limitations, such as methodological disparity and high risk of bias. They concluded that more research is needed before an emphatic recommendation of yoga for IBS can be made, and suggested that researchers designing future trials involving yoga and Irritable Bowel Syndrome should apply meticulous methodology and improve the reporting of their trials by rigorously following commonly accepted reporting guidelines.
Do you need helpful yoga practice tips to counteract too much sitting? Read this article from Christine Malossi and YogaUOnline – 6 Yoga Poses to Counteract the Effects of Sitting.
Christine Malossi began practicing yoga in 1999. Based in New York City, she offers an alignment-focused, slow Vinyasa practice that cultivates awareness and equanimity. She is currently enrolled in an 800-hour course on the History, Literature, and Philosophy of Yoga (taught by Brenda Feuerstein, designed by the late Georg Feuerstein). Christine is a Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance, and has additional certifications in Therapeutic Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Accessible Yoga, and Functional Anatomy for Movement and Injuries. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and NYU, and also spent many years studying classical ballet. Find her at christinemalossi.com.
1. Schumann, Dania. Effect of Yoga in the Therapy of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2016; 14:1720–1731.