Effectiveness and safety of herbal medicines in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review

World J Gastroenterol. 2008 Jan 21;14(3):454-62. doi: 10.3748/wjg.14.454.


Aim: To explore the efficacy and safety of herbal medicines (HM) in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Methods: A computer-based as well as manual literature search was performed. We reviewed randomized controlled trials on the treatment of IBS with and without HM.

Results: A total of 22 studies with 25 HMs met the inclusion criteria. Four of these studies were of good quality, while the remaining 18 studies involving 17 Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) formulas were of poor quality. Eight of these reports using 9 HMs showed global improvement of IBS symptoms, 4 studies with 3 HMs were efficacious in diarrhea-predominant IBS, and 2 studies with 2 HMs showed improvement in constipation-predominant IBS. Out of a total of 1279 patients, 15 adverse events in 47 subjects were reported with HM. No serious adverse events or abnormal laboratory tests were observed. The incidence of the adverse events was low (2.97%; 95% CI: 2.04%-3.90%).

Conclusion: Herbal medicines have therapeutic benefit in IBS, and adverse events are seldom reported in literature. Nevertheless, herbal medicines should be used with caution. It is necessary to conduct rigorous, well-designed clinical trials to evaluate their effectiveness and safety in the treatment of IBS.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Databases, Factual
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / adverse effects
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phytotherapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal