Standardized herbal treatments on functional bowel disorders: moving from putative mechanisms of action to controlled clinical trials

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Symptom relief in functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID) is frequently sought with complementary and alternative medicine, and various herbal medicine compounds are popular in different parts of the world. Only a few products, however, are standardized and are backed by scientific evidence. This review mainly focuses on mechanistic and clinical data in support of the Japanese traditional compound Rikkunshi-to (RKT) and of STW-5. Their effects on gut sensori-motor function, neurohormonal network, and controlled clinical data in FGID are revised. RKT and STW-5 appear to possess some degree of gastroprokinetic, visceral analgesic properties, and seem to increase the gastric accommodation response. Controlled trials of RKT and STW-5 support at least a modest effect on symptoms of functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome, with low side effects profile. With the widespread use of herbals and the relative paucity of effective pharmacological options for FGID, rigorous studies to further elucidate pharmacological actions and clinical applications of herbal compounds are a priority.

This mini-review provides a summary of potential pharmocaodynamic and described clinical effects of standardized herbal medicines in functional bowel disorders.

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