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Slippery Elm for IBS

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Updated July 01, 2014

Slippery Elm for IBS
Photo: Ulf Sjostedt / Getty Images

Slippery elm is one of those things that you may have heard about as a possible herbal remedy for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Beyond that, you may not really know what it is, what it does, or how you would take it. Obtaining that essential information can help you to decide if slippery elm is something that you would like to try in an effort to relieve your IBS symptoms. Just remember that as an herbal remedy, there is little research regarding its effectiveness, and the FDA can not recommend it as a treatment for any particular health condition.

More importantly, remember to check with your doctor before trying slippery elm or any other over-the-counter product.

What Is Slippery Elm?

Slippery elm is an herbal preparation made from the slippery inner bark of a type of elm tree. Slippery elm has long been used in North America for medicinal purposes. Native Americans used preparations made from the bark as a topical antiseptic treatment for wounds, burns and skin irritations, and they ingested it as a treatment for coughs and respiratory problems. Slippery elm is available in powder, capsule and lozenge form.

How Is Slippery Elm Thought to Help IBS?

When taken, slippery elm is easy on the digestive system. Slippery elm is said to be good for both diarrhea and constipation, as it softens and adds smooth bulk to the stool. Slippery elm also calms irritation as it gently coats the lining of the intestinal system.

Slippery elm is frequently used by patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In response to this popular use, a study was done to assess the antioxidant qualities of slippery elm and other herbal preparations, as antioxidants are thought to play a role in reducing inflammation. In the lab, slippery elm did display the antioxidant qualities that the study was assessing, resulting in the conclusion that slippery elm appears promising and should be further evaluated as a potential remedy for IBD. No such studies appear to be available as yet for IBS, though one can hope.

How Do I Take Slippery Elm?

For digestive relief, slippery elm is best taken in capsule or powder form. Parents should check with their pediatrician for the appropriate dosage for children. For adults, the recommended dosage is:

  • Capsule: 250 to 500 mg, three times a day
  • Powder: Mix two cups boiling water to one tablespoon of powder, three times a day.

To allow time for your body to adjust, you may want to start with one dose a day and then slowly work up to the recommended amount.

Will it Interact With My Medications?

Slippery elm may interfere with the way that other medications or herbal remedies are absorbed by your body. To avoid this, take slippery elm several hours before or after taking other medications.

The Bottom Line

Slippery elm is generally considered to be a safe remedy for digestive distress for adults and children. As a supplement, it may be taken when you are experiencing acute symptoms or taken on a regular basis to manage chronic symptoms. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, it definitely appears to be worth a try.

Sources:

Economic Characterization of the Dietary Supplement Industry Final Report 1999.

Langmead, L., Dawson, C., Hawkins, C., Banna, N., Loo, S., & Rampton, D. Antioxidant effects of herbal therapies used by patients with inflammatory bowel disease: an in vitro study Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2002 16:197-205.

Slippery Elm University of Maryland Medical Center 2002.

"Slippery Elm" USDA NRCS National Plant Data.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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