Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a disorder of large intestine/ colon. It is marked by abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits.
The other symptoms include other gastric discomforts such as cramps in stomach, bloating and gas. The changed bowel habits may be reflected as diarrhoea or constipation, or sometimes both from time to time.
These symptoms are common and severe ones are rarely observed.
It is a chronic condition that has a long term effect. However, in spite of the great discomforts caused by IBS, it is not a condition that may harm the intestinal tissues or increase the risk of developing cancer.
The cause of this disease is not clearly known, there are a few factors that play a role in the development of IBS.
Normally, this condition is treated through diet and lifestyle changes. The treatment options available for this disease neither have long term effectiveness nor have holistic benefits and the side-effects add to the woes.
Therefore, alternative treatment options are looked up to.
Such an alternative is the natural compound curcumin which is obtained from the common spice, turmeric.
What is curcumin?
Curcumin is a polyphenolic compound present in the rhizomes of turmeric (Curcuma longa). It is also called diferuloylmethane and is responsible for the yellow-orange colour of turmeric.
Curcumin is an abundant and the most bio-active component of this spice. Its ability to interact with various molecular pathways of a living cell renders it medicinal benefits.
It has several therapeutic properties such as anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antioxidant, anti-cancer, analgesic, immune-modulatory etc.
These properties have been found to be effective against a number of mild to severe diseases such as diabetes, infections, arthritis, ulcerative colitis, cancer and many more.
6 Proven Benefits of Curcumin in IBS
Curcumin, owing to its versatility, has a great potential in the treatment and management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Its various therapeutic activities cover different aspects of this disease.
1. Curcumin reduces intestinal motility dysfunction
The dysfunction of intestinal motility (movements of digestive system, i.e. excretion) is considered to be the main cause and symptom of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The abnormalities in the contraction reflexes of the intestines result into either increased bowel movement (diarrhoea) or constipation. These also result into abdominal cramps and pain.
In a study, powerful contraction in the colon was observed to be a reason of occurrence of diarrhoea and abdominal pain in the IBS patients.
Curcumin is known to have beneficial effects against intestinal disorders like, diarrhoea and constipation.
Studies have shown that the administration of curcumin can improve the condition of diarrhoea by decreasing the intestinal motility. This has a great significance in the treatment of intestinal motility dysfunction and associated abdominal pain in the patients with IBS.
What does it mean?
It means use of curcumin can treat the motility related intestinal dysfunction in the IBS patients. Curcumin can treat the symptoms like diarrhoea or constipation in them.
2. Curcumin acts on gut-brain axis to relieve IBS symptoms
The role of enteric nervous system (ENS) or intrinsic nervous system is critical in the development of irritable bowel syndrome. The ENS is involved in the function of the gastrointestinal tract through serotonin (a neurotransmitter) that controls intestinal motility, secretion and blood flow.
The ENS, gastrointestinal wall along with central nervous system (CNS) and endocrine glands (hypothalamus, adrenal and pituitary) consist of the gut-brain axis.
The abnormalities in serotonin signalling affect the functioning of gastrointestinal tract giving rise to the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
BDNF (a protein involved in the growth and survival of neurons) also contributes to the abdominal pain in the IBS. Its increased level in the mucosa of colon is found to be correlated with the pain.
Curcumin has a potential to combat this issue as well.
In a study on an IBS model, curcumin was found to act on the gut-brain axis by regulating the levels of serotonin and BDNF.
This activity exerted beneficial effects by improving the signalling of these molecules in the brain as well as intestine, which led to improvement in the IBS symptoms.
What does it mean?
Curcumin administration can improve the altered signalling in the gut-brain axis. This has beneficial effects on the symptoms of IBS.
3. Curcumin relieves stomach spasms
Spasmodic abdominal pain is caused due to spasms (spontaneous contractions) in the smooth muscle of colon. This normally occurs in the lower abdomen and is associated with altered intestinal motility, i.e. diarrhoea or constipation.
The spasmodic pain is one of the major discomforts faced by the IBS patients.
Antispasmodic drugs are often employed for the treatment of IBS to reduce the abdominal pain. These work by targeting the contraction of smooth muscle cells through various ion channels.
Curcumin is known to possess an antispasmodic activity too.
It has the ability to relax smooth muscle cells. It reduces the frequency of muscle contractions significantly. This has a great implication in relieving the abdominal pain caused by the spasms/ contractions of the smooth muscle cells of colon.
What does it mean?
It means curcumin can be used to relieve the spasmodic abdominal pain in the IBS patients. It has anti-spasmodic activity which helps to relax the contractions of the smooth muscle cells of colon.
4. Curcumin alleviates depression and mood related symptoms in IBS patients
Depression or anxiety disorders are found to be prevalent among the IBS patients. These are both a cause and an effect of IBS.
Depression and anxiety can trigger the onset of this disease as well as may be a consequence of the disease.
Stress and depression stimulate the generation of chemicals like corticotrophin release factor (CRF), ACTH and cortisol (the stress hormone). These chemicals impair the gut functioning, directly or indirectly to produce symptoms, like pain.
Curcumin is a potent inhibitor of cortisol secretion. It inhibits the factor ACTH which stimulates the release of cortisol. This can have positive implications on the gut impairment.
Curcumin attenuates stress induced depressive symptoms by reducing the stress hormone levels. It also modulates the endocrine glands dysfunction and BDNF expressions to reduce the stress induced symptoms.
Moreover, the ability of curcumin to increase the serotonin levels enables it with antidepressant like activity. This can be helpful in managing depression in the IBS patients.
In an IBS model, curcumin’s action on gut-brain axis (regulation of the expressions of serotonin and BDNF) has been found to be effective in reducing the depressive and anxiety associated symptoms.
What does it mean?
It means curcumin supplementation can be an effective way of alleviating depression and mood related symptoms in the IBS patients. This can not only be useful in treating the disease but also in preventing its onset.
5. Curcumin protects from stomach infections and inflammation
Gastric infections have a high probability of inducing the development of the IBS. A large number of patients have been observed to develop IBS after a gastric infection.
The organisms associated with this type of IBS are the common food borne pathogens such as bacteria, for example, E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella etc. H. pylori, a common infection causing bacteria in the stomach is also thought to increase the visceral hypersensitivity (pain in stomach) in the IBS patients.
In the post-infectious IBS, the role of a low-grade inflammation (in response to the infection and other factors) is there in the onset of the disease.
Curcumin, being an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial compound can be a solution to this problem.
Its anti-inflammatory action is proven against a number of inflammatory disorders. In case of gastrointestinal diseases as well, curcumin has shown efficacy in attenuating the inflammation and thus, exerting a protective effect.
Curcumin’s antimicrobial activity has been found to be effective against a number of pathogens, including the ones that cause gastric infections. For example, it kills the bacteria such as E. coli by damaging their membrane.
It also arrests the growth of the bacteria H. pylori and thus protects the stomach from the damages caused due to infection.
Curcumin has gastroprotective action not only against infections but also against inflammation and gastric damage induced by other factors such as due to use of certain drugs (eg.NSAIDs).
What does it mean?
It means curcumin consumption can protect the stomach from the damages caused by bacterial infections. This can prevent the occurrence of post-infectious IBS.
6. Curcumin has benefits in food allergy
Food allergy is one of the major aspects of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is often observed that the onset of IBS is triggered in response to the allergic reactions caused by certain food products.
The immune response as a result of certain food intolerance (such as carbohydrates) leads to hypersensitivity in the gastrointestinal tract and thus causes intestinal motility disorders.
The elimination of food products that aggravate the allergic responses has been found to be an effective way of improving the symptoms of IBS.
The food products that are often eliminated are fat, insoluble fibres (found in fruits and vegetables), onion, cabbage, beans, caffeine, dairy products, carbohydrates, high-protein food etc.
A drawback of the food elimination can be a decreased nutrient intake in the body as a large number of regularly eaten and highly nutritious food products fall into this category. Therefore, a more feasible way to combat food allergy has to be there.
Curcumin can do just that. It has ability to modulate the immune response to inhibit allergic reactions.
In case of food allergy, curcumin administration has been found to be effective in reducing the allergy symptoms. It regulates the immune response to inhibit the allergic reactions triggered by food products.
In a model with intestinal anaphylaxis (severe allergic response in intestine resulting into nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhoea), curcumin could suppress the food allergy symptoms significantly by regulating the immune activation.
What does it mean?
Curcumin intake can regulate the immune responses triggered by certain food products. This can be a more feasible way of combating food allergy in IBS patients as opposed to the food elimination. This can also ensure a better nutrition in the IBS patients.
Dosage of Curcumin For IBS
The specifications for the dosage of curcumin for IBS are not known.
A majority of curcumin supplements are standardized 95% curcumin with bioperine. The fusion of curcumin with piperine and natural fats increases its abrosrption/ bioavailability in the body. (Read How to improve bioavailability of curcumin?)
There are ongoing researches on improving the bioavailability of curcumin through various formulations such as liposomes, phospholipid complexes, nano-particles etc.
There are several other varieties of curcumin supplements that have better bioavailability. (Read 8 Popular curcumin supplement types)
Ideally, low doses of curcumin should be taken in the beginning. The dose should be raised gradually over weeks. Curcumin intake is better after meals. Maintain a gap of 3-4 hours between taking curcumin and any medication.
Safety of turmeric in diet is very well known. In most studies, the safety of curcumin (even in high doses) has been ascertained.
A few precautions are necessary to take while using curcumin. (Read Side-effects & Precautions of Curcumin)
Curcumin may cause allergies in sensitive individuals. Please conduct a patch test before applying curcumin topically.
Curcumin may cause acid reflux in the prone individuals. Therefore, it should be consumed after a meal.
Large dose of curcumin can cause gastric discomfort like diarrhea, bloating, nausea etc. Therefore, it is advisable to start curcumin with low doses, and its intake should be avoided in case any severe gastric side-effects are observed.
Curcumin interferes in drug metabolism. Therefore, 3-4 hours gap must be maintained between taking curcumin and any medication. An expert’s opinion is best to take in this matter.
Curcumin may increase the risk of bleeding owing to its blood thinning activity. Therefore, people with bleeding disorders or on blood thinning medication should refrain from curcumin. (Read Is turmeric a blood thinner?)
Curcumin intake should be discontinued at least two weeks ahead of a surgery and after that as well.
Gallstone Patients should take curcumin supplements if advised by health practitioner.(Read Is turmeric safe in gallstones?)
Curcumin supplements must be devoid of contamination. Curcumin supplements can have contaminants such as heavy metals, harmful chemicals, fillers or additives. These contaminants may be a potent disease (such as cancer, ulcers, etc.) causing agents.
Curcumin supplements are excellent when combined with bioavailability boosters. Curcumin is poorly available to the body. Therefore, it is best to integrate curcumin with the agents like Bioperine which increase its absorption in the body.
A medical expert must be consulted before using curcumin supplements.
Curcumin can prove to be a great natural asset for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The advantages of curcumin are immensely valuable in this disease as this compound has a holistic approach. This compound benefits in IBS by acting on a wide range of stimuli.
Curcumin alleviates the symptoms of IBS through its action on gut-brain axis, smooth muscle of colon, intestinal contractions and inflammation caused by a gastric infection. Its gastroprotective action aids in this.
Moreover, it tackles stress and depression, as well as food allergy that pose as a major trigger for IBS.
In the view of all these benefits, curcumin can concluded to be of significant therapeutic use in the IBS.