For people looking for new therapies to find relief from the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the results from a recent study has some disappointing news. The study, published in the journal Gastroenterology, is the first to investigate the effectiveness of the herbal supplement St. John's Wort-long touted as an aid to ward off depression-in the treatment of IBS. Researchers found that the supplement is less effective for the ailment than a placebo.

For 12 weeks, the trial followed 70 patients, mostly women, diagnosed with IBS. The volunteers were randomly divided into two groups. One group was given 450 milligrams of St. John's Wort twice a day, and the other group was given a placebo (sugar pill). At the end of the trial, researchers found that while both groups reported an improvement in their IBS symptoms, the placebo group showed greater improvement in their symptoms.

In a news release, lead author of the study Yuri Saito, M.D., M.P.H., from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said, "Our study investigated if herbal antidepressants, such as St. John's Wort, could benefit irritable bowel disease patients. Several of the chemical neurotransmitters that are in the brain are also in the colon. Therefore, it's been thought that antidepressants may affect sensation in the colon in a similar way to how they affect sensation in the brain. Our goal was to evaluate the usefulness of St. John's Wort in treating IBS. Unfortunately, our study showed that St. John's Wort was not successful in helping IBS patients."

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common disorder affecting about 20 percent of adults in the U.S., and causes abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation. While there is no cure for IBS, there are many options available to help alleviate symptoms, including medications to treat constipation and diarrhea and antispasmodics to control colon muscle spasms and reduce abdominal pain. Making some dietary changes and finding stress relief can also help. Some foods to avoid if you suffer from IBS include:

  • Fatty foods, like French fries
  • Milk products
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Carbonated drinks

Eating four or five small meals a day instead of three large ones may also help reduce symptoms. And while emotional stress does not cause IBS, it can make symptoms worse. Talk to your doctor to see if stress management techniques, such as meditation, exercise and counseling, may be effective for you.