Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Ulcerative Colitis

Some Herbs And Supplements Are Under Study For Treating Ulcerative Colitis

Many people who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) seek treatments to augment their medication regimens. Using complementary and alternative remedies for IBD is very common; anywhere from 30% to 50% of people who have ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease may do it, note survey results published in the journal Gastroentérologie Clinique et Biologique. However, many of these treatments have not been studied extensively, and in some cases, the research has shown that they are not beneficial at all.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera
Aloe vera comes in a juice form that some people drink to treat for various digestive conditions. Image © Brian Yarvin / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

This plant has been used for centuries to treat many conditions. Aloe is an anti-inflammatory, and it may also be an antifungal and an antibacterial agent.

Some people take a liquid form of aloe to treat their digestive conditions, such as ulcerative colitis. The thought is that aloe's anti-inflammatory properties will help calm the inflammation that is present in the digestive tract. However, it has not been researched extensively for use in ulcerative colitis, and there is currently not enough evidence to warrant its use in treating this condition.

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Boswellia is an herb that has been studied for use as an anti-inflammatory in treating many conditions, including ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and collagenous colitis. The research on boswellia for treating ulcerative colitis is ongoing, and has shown promise.

While these initial studies have shown some promise, boswellia is currently not approved for use in treating any condition.

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Butyrate is a fatty acid that is actually produced as a byproduct in our intestines.

Butyrate enemas have been studied as a treatment for left-sided (or distal) ulcerative colitis. Some studies have shown that these enemas may be effective in reducing inflammation in the colon. Butyrate is still being studied for use in treating IBD, and it is not approved for general use.

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Licorice Root

Licorice root is a demulcent (it coats mucous membranes to relieve irritation) and an expectorant (it helps bring up mucus) that has been used for thousands of years to treat many conditions.

Most recently it has been studied for use in treating stomach ulcers caused by infection with Helicobacter pylori. Licorice has not been shown to be effective in treating ulcerative colitis and it isn't recommended.

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Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, such as lowering cholesterol, are well-known and well-documented. Fish oil in particular has been studied for use in reducing the inflammation from both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. There is some evidence that fish oil may be effective, although more research is still needed.

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Slippery Elm

Slippery elm is an herb that has long been used, especially topically, to treat wounds and irritations.

This supplement, which is derived from the bark of the elm tree, may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It may have the effect of slowing down the digestive system. There has been some preliminary study of slippery elm to treat IBD, but there is not enough evidence to recommend its use.

Consult your health care team before deciding to try any supplements to treat ulcerative colitis. Any supplement has the potential to interact with medications or cause allergic reactions.

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Bensoussan M, Jovenin N, Garcia B, Vandromme L, Jolly D, Bouché O, Thiéfin G, Cadiot G. "Complementary and alternative medicine use by patients with inflammatory bowel disease: results from a postal survey." Gastroenterol Clin Biol 2006 Jan; 30:14-23. 23 Jun 2013.

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