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Yoga for IBS

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Updated August 24, 2012

Yoga for IBS
Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images

Yoga certainly seems like a natural fit for a person who has IBS. Here is a brief overview of the benefits of yoga and what research has to say about any possible benefit in terms of reducing IBS symptoms.

Why Yoga for IBS?

Yoga offers some advantages over other forms of exercise.

  • Yoga has a well-documented helpful effect on the autonomic nervous system thus addressing the IBS brain-gut connection.
  • It has also been shown that yoga counteracts the effects of stress, a major contributor to IBS symptoms.
  • Yoga may reduce the likelihood of weight gain — reassuring if food sensitivities prevent you from following a specific diet.
  • Yoga's slow pace may remove the risk of triggering runners' diarrhea.

Yoga and IBS Research

In my search, I was able to find two clinical trials that looked at yoga as a direct treatment for IBS.

The first study measured the effects of four weeks of yoga on GI-related symptoms in adolescents with IBS. The yoga intervention consisted of a one-hour instructional class, which included a demonstration as well as student practice, followed by a video to be used for daily home practice. Although the study size was small (only 25 participants), the results were promising. The lucky teenagers who were placed in the yoga group experienced less anxiety, avoidance behavior and disability than those in the wait list control group. The teenagers who were originally on the waiting list were then given the same four-week treatment. The researchers combined the two groups and compared their symptoms before and after the yoga treatment. The yoga treatment resulted in significantly fewer GI symptoms and less anxious avoidance, suggesting that yoga may be helpful for people with IBS.

The second study studied the effects of yoga treatment on a small group of men who suffered from diarrhea-predominant IBS. The group was split into two: the conventional treatment subjects received the medication lopermamide, while the rest were placed in the yoga group. The yoga intervention consisted of 12 yoga poses and a specific breathing practice, which the patients were instructed to practice twice a day. Again, the results were promising. After a two-month period of time, both groups showed a significant decrease in GI symptoms and anxiety. The loperamide group experienced an increase in GI activity, while the yoga group experienced greater activation of the part of the nervous system that is involved with calming the body. The researchers conclude that yoga may be more beneficial for patients with IBS-D than traditional lopermadide treatment.

My Bottom Line

Although these are some promising results, it is way too early in the game to conclude that yoga is an effective treatment for IBS. Hopefully, additional, larger research studies will be conducted to further answer the question as to whether yoga helps IBS, as well as pinpointing which practices are most effective for symptom relief. In the meantime, since yoga does have many demonstrated health benefits, it may be a good idea to grab a mat and start to soothe your spirit.

Want to try yoga? Visit About.com’s comprehensive yoga site, guided by Ann Pizer.

Sources:

Bhargava, R., Gogate, M. & Mascarena, J. “Autonomic responses to breath holding and its variations following pranayama.” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 2004:115-121.

Kristal, A., Littman, A., Benitez, D. & White, E. “Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women.” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 2005:28-33.

Kuttner, L., Chambers, C., Hardial, J., Israel, D., Jacobson, K. & Evans, K. “A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome.” Pain Research & Management 2006:217-223.

Pal, G., Velkumary, S. & Mananmohan. “Effect of short-term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers” Indian Journal of Medical Research 2004 120:115-121.

Taneja, I., Deepak, K., Poojary, G., Archaya, N., Pandey, R. &Sharma, M. “Yogic versus conventional treatment in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized control study.Applied Physiology and Biofeedback 2004 19:33.

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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