Is There a Cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

If Someone Says They've Cured Their IBD, They've Probably Been Misdiagnosed

Tree Bark
"Tree bark" has become synonymous in the IBD community with a sham cure. Anyone who claims that their product will cure IBD is just taking your money. Image © Antagain / E+ / Getty Images

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition, and people with IBD will typically need treatment throughout their lives. But is there anything that might offer a cure?

No, currently there is no cure for Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, the two main types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a chronic condition, and people with IBD will typically need treatment throughout their lives.

It is possible for someone to do well with their IBD, but this would be more correctly called deep remission, rather than a cure.

Remission Is The Goal

Some people with IBD may experience remission, or a prolonged absence of symptoms. IBD is considered to have gone into remission when bowel function is more normal, and the symptoms of IBD are not bothersome. Remission is the goal of treatment, and for some people with IBD, a period of remission may last for a long time. However, most people will experience alternating periods of active disease (flare-ups) and remission throughout their lives.

Isn't Surgery A "Cure?"

Treatment for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis includes both medications and surgery. A total colectomy is sometimes referred to as a “cure” for ulcerative colitis, because with the removal of the colon, that aspect of disease is effectively gone. However, there is a small subset of patients with ulcerative colitis that also have disease in the last part of the small intestine (terminal ileum), which would not be curable with a colectomy.

Also, related problems like surgical complications, rashes, and joint pain may still occur.

Surgery for Crohn's disease can also include a colectomy, or resection, but it is not a cure because the disease may recur in other parts of the digestive tract.

Could New Medications Cure IBD?

Medical treatment for IBD includes corticosteroids (prednisone), 5-ASA drugs (mesalamine), immunosuppressives, and anti-tnf medications such as Remicade (infliximab), Humira (adalimumab), Cimzia (certolizumab pegol), Enbrel (etanercept), Entyvio (vedolizumab), and Simponi (golimumab).

These medications cannot cure IBD, but for many people, they can treat symptoms or help induce a period of remission.

Finding a cure for IBD may start with discovering the cause of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD is an idiopathic disease, or a disease with unknown cause. There are theories about the possible cause of IBD that include an IgE-mediated allergic response, a bacterial infection, and a genetic component.

The Bottom Line

The Internet is full of people who claim that they've found a "cure" for IBD. The treatments for IBD can be daunting and so it's no wonder that people with IBD look for a more palatable treatment that seems easier to use. However, there are no alternative or complementary therapies that have been found to cure IBD. There are also no conventional medications that have been found to cure IBD.

What we have are treatments which can help calm symptoms and manage inflammation and complications. Alternative and complementary treatments have their place, and some have been found to be beneficial for IBD, but they can't take the place of management by a gastroenterologist.

It is wise to keep this adage in mind: "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is." There are many people who claim to have cured themselves. If they are doing well (and treating inflammation, not just symptoms), that is wonderful for them. However, it's not likely that anyone else will be able to do the exact same thing (diet, supplements, and so on) and have the same results. Without knowing the intimate details of their disease and their treatments, it's impossible to take someone's regimen and expect it to work the same way in other patients. People who are selling a book or a supplement that promises a cure 

Sources:

Abdelrazeq AS, Wilson TR, Leitch DL, Lund JN, Leveson SH. " Ileitis in Ulcerative Colitis: Is It a Backwash?" Diseases of the Colon & Rectum 48(2005): 1542-1549. 30 Aug 2013.

Bell AJ, Price AB, Forbes A, et al. “Pre-pouch ileitis: a disease of the ileum in ulcerative colitis after restorative proctocolectomy.” Colorectal Disease 8(2006): 402-410. 30 Aug 2013.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). "Crohn's Disease." The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse 10 Jul 2013. 30 Aug 2013.

Continue Reading