Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis

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What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that results in chronic inflammation in the digestive tract, usually in the large intestine (colon) and the rectum.

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Feeling of urgency
  • Inability to have a bowel movement despite the urge to do so
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Weight loss

Symptoms may also occur outside the gut and include joint pain, eye inflammation, skin rashes and lesions, and mouth ulcers.

Natural Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis

There is no known cure for ulcerative colitis. Alternative therapies are popular among people with ulcerative colitis, however, so far scientific support for the claim that any remedy can treat ulcerative colitis is lacking. It's important to note that alternative medicine should not be used as a substitute for standard care.

Here are nine natural remedies to consider:

1) Probiotics

Probiotics, "friendly" bacteria that reside in the gut, have been found to be effective in managing ulcerative colitis. They help control the number of potentially harmful bacteria, reduce inflammation, and improve the protective mucus lining of the gut.

Probiotics are among the most popular remedies for inflammatory bowel disease because they are without significant side effects and appear to be safe for most people.

A University of Alberta study examined 34 people with mild-to-moderate active ulcerative colitis who were unresponsive to conventional treatment.

The researchers gave them a probiotic supplement called VSL#3, which provided a total of 3,600 billion bacteria a day for 6 weeks. At the end of the study, 18 people (53 percent) demonstrated remission on a sigmoidoscopy and a further 8 people (24 percent) had a favorable response.

Researchers at the University of Dundee analyzed bacteria from rectal biopsies of patients with active ulcerative colitis and healthy control subjects.

There were significantly fewer bifidobacterium numbers in the ulcerative colitis biopsies, which suggested that these probiotic bacteria might have a protective role in the disease. In a further study, 18 people with active ulcerative colitis were given a bifidobacterium supplement or a placebo for one month. Sigmoidoscopy, biopsy, and blood tests showed significant improvement in the probiotic group compared with the placebo group.

Related: Acidophilus and Other Probiotics.

An Italian study examined the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, which was previously found to be beneficial in the maintenance of the other inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease. Researchers gave 25 patients with a mild-to-moderate flare-up of ulcerative colitis a supplement containing 250 milligrams of Saccharomyces boulardii three times a day for 4 weeks during maintenance treatment with the drug mesalazine (these patients were unsuitable for steroid therapy). Of the 24 patients who completed the study, 17 had clinical remission, which was confirmed by endoscopic exam.

More on Saccharomyces Boulardii.

2) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Some studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil capsules, may reduce inflammation in people with ulcerative colitis.

A critical analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at controlled trials published from 1966 to 2003. Although the researchers concluded that more evidence is needed about the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids, three studies found that omega-3 fatty acids reduced corticosteroid requirements (statistical significance was shown in one of these studies.

  • Another study looked at the influence of fish oil and an elemental diet on the intestinal tissues of ulcerative colitis, Crohn's, and control patients and found the most marked anti-inflammatory effect in ulcerative colitis tissues.
  • Research conducted at the Cleveland Clinic looked at an oral supplement containing fish oil, soluble fiber, and antioxidants (vitamin E, C, and selenium) on disease activity and medication use in adults with mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis. In the study, 86 patients with ulcerative colitis consumed 18 ounces of the supplement or a placebo each day for 6 months. Patients taking the oral supplement had a significantly greater rate of decreasing their dose of prednisone over 6 months compared with the placebo group. Both groups showed significant and similar improvement in clinical and histological responses.

More research on omega-3 fatty acids is needed, especially at differing doses, because not all studies have found a positive effect.

See Omega-3 Fatty Acids for more on using these essential fatty acid supplements.

3) Oral Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe vera gel has been found in studies to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

A double-blind, randomized trial examined the effectiveness and safety of aloe vera gel for the treatment of mild-to-moderate active ulcerative colitis. Researchers gave 30 patients 100 mL of oral aloe vera gel and 14 patients 100 milliliters of a placebo twice daily for 4 weeks.

Clinical remission, improvement, and response occurred in nine (30 percent), 11 (37 percent) and 14 (47 percent) respectively, of aloe vera patients compared with one (7 percent), one (7 percent) and two (14 percent), respectively of patients taking the placebo. It appeared to be safe.

For more information about aloe vera, read Aloe Vera: What You Need to Know. Also, find out about Aloe Vera Juice.

4) Boswellia

Boswellia is a herb that comes from a tree native to India. The active ingredient is the resin from the tree bark, which has been found to block chemical reactions involved in inflammation. It is used by people with ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions. Unlike anti-inflammatory medication, boswellia doesn't seem to cause gut irritation that can occur with many conventional pain relievers.

A 1997 study of people with ulcerative colitis found that 82 percent of those who took a boswellia extract 350 milligrams three times daily experienced remission. Rare side effects of bowellia include diarrhea, nausea, and skin rash.

Boswellia is available in pill form. It should say on the label that it is standardized to contain 60 percent boswellic acids. It should not be taken for more than 8 to 12 weeks unless under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.

More on Boswellia.

5) Diet

A Japanese study evaluated the role of dietary factors on inflammatory bowel disease. Included in the study were 111 people with ulcerative colitis who were given food questionnaires.

The survey found a higher consumption of sweets was positively associated with ulcerative colitis risk. Vitamin C was found to have a protective effect. A higher intake was associated with a lower risk of ulcerative colitis.

Examples of foods rich in vitamin C are red bell peppers, parsley, strawberries, and spinach.

A study in the journal Gut monitored ulcerative colitis patients in remission for one year using food questionnaires. Consumption of meat, particularly red and processed meat, protein, and alcohol increased the likelihood of relapse. Researchers speculate that the high sulphur or sulphate compounds in many of these foods is the culprit, since high sulfur or sulphate intakes were also associated with relapse.

Carbohydrates may be a culprit for some people. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet was popularized by Elaine Gottschall after she used it to help her daughter recover from ulcerative colitis.

Gottschall later wrote a book called Breaking the Vicious Cycle. The premise of the book is that carbohydrates, being forms of sugar, could promote and fuel the growth of bacteria and yeast in the intestines, causing an imbalance and eventually bacterial overgrowth or yeast overgrowth.

The bacteria and yeast produce toxins and acids which injure the intestine lining and they also impair the function of digestive enzymes, which impairs the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. For more information about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, read Specific Carbohydrate Diet: What You Need to Know.

6) Folic Acid

People with chronic ulcerative colitis are at greater risk of colon cancer. A University of Toronto study found that dietary folate supplementation at four times the basic dietary requirement significantly suppressed ulcerative colitis-associated colon cancer. The incidence of high grade lesions in the folate-supplemented group was 46 percent lower than that in the control group.

7) Acupuncture

According to traditional Chinese medicine, pain results from blocked energy along energy pathways of the body, which are unblocked when acupuncture needles are inserted along these invisible pathways.

A scientific explanation is that acupuncture releases natural pain-relieving opioids, sends signals that calm the sympathetic nervous system, and releases neurochemicals and hormones.

An acupuncture treatment generally costs between $60 and $120. Acupuncture is tax-deductible (it's considered a medical expense) and some insurance plans pay for acupuncture.

If you want to try acupuncture, plan on going one to three times a week for several weeks initially.

8) Bromelain

Bromelain, a mixture of protein-digesting enzymes derived from pineapple stem, is believed to reduce inflammation.

A Duke University animal study found that daily treatment with oral bromelain decreased the incidence and severity of colitis.

For more information about bromelain, read Bromelain: What You Need to Know.

9) Mind-Body Therapies

Although stress is no longer believed to be the main cause of ulcerative colitis, chronic stress can worsen symptoms, decrease coping, and increasing the chance of remission of the disease.

A small study at the University Clinic of Essen in Germany investigated the effects of mind-body therapy on thirty paients with ulcerative colitis in remission. Patients were randomly assigned to an intervention group consisting of a structured 6 hour a week training program for 10 weeks that included stress management training, moderate exercise, Mediterranean diet, behavioral techniques and self-care strategies or a usual care waiting control group.

The study showed improvement in quality of life assessed by standardized questionnaires. However, there were no differences on clinical or physiological parameters.

Breathing techniques that make use of the mind-body connection have been found to reduce pain. These techniques integrate body awareness, breathing, movement, and meditation. What's great about breathing techniques is that you can do them yourself at home at no cost. Here are some mind-body therapies to try:

Using Natural Remedies

Supplements and other forms of alternative medicine haven't been tested for safety in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications. You can get tips on using supplements here but should always speak with your primary care provider before using supplements or alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen. Delaying or avoiding standard care can have serious consequences.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.


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