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What Supplements should you take for IBS? Part I

November 8,2019

There are aisles full of supplements, many offering an amazing array of health benefits. But which ones are good & which ones do you actually need?


As a dietitian, I have a “food first” policy so you won’t leave my clinic with bottles of pills or powders. It’s actually perfectly reasonable and possible meet nutrition needs from real food the majority of the time. What’s more, our bodies are designed to manage real food. They are super clever at absorbing what we need & leaving behind what they don’t need from food. Supplements can over-ride this natural mechanism & more isn’t always a good thing.


Additionally, labelling laws are stricter for food than they are for supplements. For example a bottle of milk can’t say “drink this for strong bones” but a bottle of pills can. Supplements can make health claims AND they don’t even have to have evidence to support their claims. This is a powerful marketing tool.


So what do you need?

Start with your doctor. For things like iron, B12 or Vit D, a simple blood test can tell you  what your levels are. Things like Calcium, are a bit trickier because the body keeps blood levels in a tight range. So this is where a dietitian comes in. We can look at what you’re eating & identify where you might not be meeting needs. And of course, suggestions to correct this.


More often than not, I remove supplements rather than adding them. I’ve even “cured”  some people of IBS by removing their supplements.

Things to avoid:

  • Anything that promises magical “healing” properties or superior “gut health”. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Get back to baseline and find out how your body reacts to food first.
  • Probiotics during an elimination diet. These skew results & interfere with identifying tolerances & thresholds.
  • If you have IBS, anything with high FODMAP ingredients or Aloe Vera.

There are some things I do suggest for some people:

  • Fibre supplements to regulate bowels.
  • Kiwifruit for Constipation.
  • Probiotics, sometimes and not initially.
  • Protein to gain weight.
  • Vitamins or minerals when diet is inadequate.


For a list of over the counter medications and supplements that are evidenced to help with IBS symptoms, please see part II of Supplements & IBS here.