Do you suffer from digestive symptoms?
If you do, you’re not alone.
Digestive health issues are one of the top three reasons people go to the doctor, and with good reason.
Your digestive health has a huge impact on your quality of life; how you feel from day to day.
It can be difficult to know what exactly is causing a particular symptom which is why working with a licensed nutritional professional is crucial, but there are some over-the-counter products that might help in the meantime.
Iberogast is one them. It has good evidence to back up its claims and this post will review what Iberogast is, what’s in it, and how it might help you.
Before diving into the who, what, how etc of Iberogast, a little background context is needed.
Before that though, it’s important to note that the information in this post does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for medical advice. If you’ve been experiencing digestive health symptoms for awhile, don’t ignore them, you should consult your doctor.
Your digestive tract is an amazing organ. It includes everything from one end to the other and everything in between. Digestion starts with your mouth, includes the esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, and your small and large intestines and of course, the rectum and anus.
Optimal digestion relies on thoroughly chewed food that can be easily swallowed without concern. Digestion also relies on your body’s ability to adequately break own food, and, in the absence of digestive symptoms, absorb nutrients and eliminate waste.
Under ideal conditions, this all happens without any glitches or hiccups. But that isn’t always the case.
Functional digestive disorders
Many people suffer from “functional digestive symptoms” such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, heartburn, prolonged sense of fullness or heaviness after eating and nausea.
These symptoms are referred to as functional when there is no physical explanation for them. This means, on investigation the digestive tract looks normal; absence of disease like Celiac, Crohn’s, or ulcers, no lesions, cancer etc.
Functional digestive disorders are typically chronic in nature, and symptoms may ebb and flow. Symptoms are sporadic, hard to pin point exactly where they’re occurring, are general in nature (“bloating”), and often don’t have any consistent, easy to identify triggers.
Two, very common functional gut issues include functional dyspepsia (a condition that affects between 20-30% of Canadians) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which affects about 20% of the Canadian population.
Functional dyspepsia versus IBS
Most gastroenterologists classify IBS as a distinct disorder from dyspepsia but upper abdominal function typically affects lower gastrointestinal tract (GI) function and vice versa (1).
Many who have either of these conditions also have symptoms of the other. About 87% of those with IBS develop symptoms of dyspepsia according to one study and in another study, over 50% of dyspeptic patients went on to develop IBS over a 5 to 7 year period (2, 3).
Is there a cure?
I get asked this question all the time; “Is there a cure?”, or “What is your success rate?”. The true is, for many people, functional digestive issues are difficult to permanently eliminate.
Symptoms frequently return, or never completely disappear. It’s the nature of the condition since there’s no organic cause (disease). BUT they can be successfully managed. People define success for themselves in different ways; some will say the just want to get “back to life” the way it was before their symptoms started while other may tried to quantify it, e.g. “50% improvement”.
In this sense, success is highly personalized. With the right tools, treatment will focus on eliminating or reducing digestive symptoms while improving one’s overall quality of life.
This is where a product like Iberogast may help.
What is Iberogast?
Iberogast hails from Germany where it’s been used, as well as, throughout Europe and other parts of the world, for over 40 years.
It came to Canada in 2006. It has a very good safety track record. Of the 20 million people using it, only 18 have reported adverse events over the years. Granted many may have experienced problems and never reported them.
Any issues are likely due to sensitivities someone might have to the various plant and flower species used in Iberogast’s formulation but let’s get some perspective. Iberogast is waaaaaaay safer than most medications which can have horrendous safety tract records.
Tylenol (a.k.a. acetaminophen or paracetamol) for example is the leading cause of liver damage-related hospital emergency depart visits and Tylenol is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States
Iberogast is a blend of nine medicinal plant extracts that are naturally sourced.
The combination of herbal extracts work together to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms commonly seen with functional digestive disorders.
Dyspepsia and IBS have multiple, underlying and overlapping causes. Because of this, treatment ideally would address as many of them as possible.
Iberogast fits the bill because it contains nine active ingredients that target the various functional mechanisms of both digestive conditions. They work synergistically to address the multiple pathways affecting digestive function (4, 5).
What’s in Iberogast?
Bitter candytuft: this herb extract helps to keep your digestive track moving normally. In this sense, it helps with peristalsis; the rhythmic contraction and relaxation of the muscles that cause a wave motion along your intestines from the stomach downward.
Bitter candytuft contains phytonutrients (plant compounds) and it’s the main ingredient in Iberogast that helps move food in the right direction. It helps with both the contraction and relaxation part of peristalsis. It also has the added benefit of being anti-inflammatory.
Chamomile flowers: rich in coumarins and flavonoids, chamomile has various organic acids and oils that have anti-inflammatory properties. It’s traditionally been used for intestinal inflammatory conditions and to relieve mild digestive complaints. These include dyspepsia (upper abdominal pain), bloating and belching.
Angelica root: it has a lot of similar phytonutrients found in tea, rosemary and apples such coumarins, tannins, flavonoids and amaroids. Angelica has been used in traditional Herbal Medicine to aid digestion and to relieve “flatulent dyspepsia” or upper abdominal pain with burping and belching.
Caraway fruits: caraway seeds have been used for centuries to ease digestive issues. It’s also been used as an appetite stimulant for those who are struggling to eat. The phytonutrients and other oils in caraway have been used in Herbal Medicine to relieve both digestive spasms (“anti-spasmodic”) and flatulent dyspepsia.
Milk thistle fruits: milk thistle fruits is also called St Mary’s thistle fruits or Blessed Thistle. It contains fancy sounding plant compounds such as flavolignanes, neolignans and flavonoids. Milk thistle has been used to treat generalized digestive issues (support digestive health) and dyspepsia.
Lemon balm leaves: traditionally used in herbal teas to support sleep, lemon balm gets its name from its strong lemony fragrance. It contains many of the usual suspects when it comes to supporting digestive health such as essential oils, lamiaceae tannins, triterpene acids, amaroids and flavonoids. It’s been used in Herbal Medicine to treat dyspepsia.
Peppermint leaves: one of the best known “digestive aids”, peppermint is rich in essential oils and tannins which help to relieve flatulence and flatulent dyspepsia. The compounds in its oil help to relieve the spasmodic (uncoordinated) contractions often seen in IBS.
Greater celandine: a herb used to ease flatulence (farting) and gas related pain. While not as strong as peppermint or caraway, Greater celandine does have mild anti-spasmodic properties.
Licorice root: traditionally used to relieve inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract such as gastritis; inflammation of the stomach.
It’s allergy friendly too. It’s free of sugar, salt, yeast, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, dairy, artificial colouring and flavouring, and preservatives but it does contain a small amount of alcohol. Most tinctures do. Many herbal ingredients don’t dissolve or blend in water so alcohol is used to extract the compounds.
What does Iberogast help with?
As mentioned, gastrointestinal disorders are multifactorial meaning there are many different contributing factors. This is why those with GI challenges often experience many symptoms at the same time.
Iberogast’s nine herbal ingredients have been shown to help treat symptoms such as heartburn, gas, constipation, fullness, diarrhea, stomach pain, cramping, bloating and nausea and is considered a good first treatment of choice in the management of functional gastrointestinal diseases and disorders (6)
Peristalsis: Iberogast has been shown to help normalize peristalsis by alleviating and preventing spasms of the muscles that line the digestive tract. It does this by coordinating the muscles’ contractions and their subsequent relaxation to help move things along (7). This occurs when the upper part of the stomach (fundus) relaxes with the lower part (pyloric atrium & pyloric canal), where the foods is being moved into the first part of the small intestine is, is toned (8).
Reduces gas: anything that reduces flatulence, or gas, is described as “carminative” which Iberogast is. It has several herbs that help to reduce the release of gas from the stomach (belching) or the intestines (flatulence or ‘farting’) (7).
Pain reducer: Iberogast acts as a local anesthesia. Like other oils such as clove oil, many of the ingredients provide mild pain relief by numbing the digestive tract. The pain associated with gastrointestinal disorders is referring to as “visceral hypersensitivity. It’s not entirely clear if those who experience it are experiencing excessive pain due to their digestive disorder or if they are more sensitive than others (8, 9). Regardless, Iberogast has been shown to help reduce pain associated with functional gut disorders (7).
Helps with reflux & supports digestion: by mildly reducing stomach acid production, Iberogast can help reduce reflux. Also, herbal bitters have been used for centuries to help with digestion. Iberogast does have some bitter tasting properties which, when activate your taste buds, stimulates the release of digestive secretions in the intestines and digestion itself (7).
Dyspepsia-specific studies: a study found that those with functional dyspepsia taking Iberogast had significantly reduced GI symptoms compared to those who took the placebo (“dummy solution”). Of the patients taking Iberogast, 86% reported improvement after four weeks of treatment (10).
Results from a meta-analysis, (a study that combines the data from other, similar studies) support Iberogast’s effectiveness in providing symptomatic relief to patients with functional dyspepsia.
The study authors acknowledge that the total amount of evidence to date is small but the results are still large enough to demonstrate efficacy. Of course more research is always need to confirm these results (11).
Another study showed that Iberogast had similar effectiveness in treating gastrointestinal symptoms to a type of medication called “prokinetics”; drugs that stimulate motility, or movement, along the digestive tract in a beneficial way (12).
IBS-specific studies: a four-week study involving 208 patients with IBS found Iberogast to be significantly better than placebo in reducing assessment scores of both abdominal pain and IBS symptoms.
On average, patients had a 20% improvement in symptoms compared to placebo. More impressively, more than 50% of subjects had complete relief compared to those in the control group (those who didn’t get Iberogast but rather the placebo) (13).
By acting on two different serotonin receptors in the gut, Iberogast benefited those who’s main symptoms were diarrhea, constipation, and altering stool consistencies (14).
How to use Iberogast
Unless prescribed otherwise by your doctor, take Iberogast 3 times a day in some liquid before or with meals according to the following:
- Adults (12 years and over) take 20 drops at a time
- Children 6 to 12 years take 15 drops at a time
- Children 3 to 6 years take 10 drops at a time
Shake the bottle well before use. Hold the bottle at a 45 degree angel and shake the required number of drops into a small glass of water (or liquid of your choice e.g. juice or warm liquid – not hot) and drink, 3 times a day
If you’re are unsure whether or not you can can use Iberogast for a prolonged period of time, you should ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice. Consult a health care practitioner if your symptoms persist, or expected relief is not achieved within 7 days or for use beyond 4 consecutive weeks.
Digestive health issues are common place.
Several malfunctions in the gastrointestinal tract have been linked to what’s referred to as functional digestive issues. They’re consider functional because there isn’t any physical source for the symptoms.
While there aren’t any definitive cures, those with functional digestive disorders need to focus on eliminating or reducing symptoms to help improve their overall quality of life.
This is where a product like Iberogast can help.
Even though Iberogast is derived from plants, as an herbal product it has sufficient evidence from decent studies to recommend its use if you have functional gastrointestinal ailments.
Like other nutritional supplements, Iberogast is a Natural Health Product and is regulated by Health Canada’s Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate.
If you or someone you know has symptoms consistent with a functional digestive disorder, Iberogast is worth a try. Of note, it’s important to rule out the presence of a gastric or duodenal ulcer before trying Iberogast to avoid any discomfort or aggravation of ulcer-related symptoms.
It’s likely you have nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain.
Doug Cook RDN is a Toronto based integrative and functional nutritionist and dietitian with a focus on digestive, gut, mental health. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.