Alternative medicine is often used in conjunction with the terms “complementary medicine” or “integrative medicine,” but they can actually mean different things. In general, these are treatments outside the typical mainstream Western medicine. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the term “alternative treatments” means you are using a non-mainstream, non-traditional approach to treat an illness in place of conventional, evidence-based medicine.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about any alternative therapies you are considering. Some alternative therapies may work well in conjunction with your medical treatments. Others may interact dangerously with your medical treatments. Many alternative therapies are simply lifestyle changes that promote general health and wellbeing.
Your gastrointestinal tract contains “good” bacteria, which help with digestion and offer protection against “bad” bacteria. If you have taken antibiotics or have an illness, you may not have a sufficient supply of the good bacteria. Probiotics are living microorganisms that you can consume. They act very much like the good bacteria in your gut.
Probiotics have not been proven to reduce the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and further study is needed. They may be more or less beneficial depending on the location and stage of the disease. Some strains might work for one person but not others. If you decide to try probiotics, talk to your doctor first, and try to find a product that is free of dairy because many people with Crohn’s disease are sensitive to dairy products.
Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates found in artichokes, honey, whole grains, bananas, onions, and garlic. They are food for probiotics and for intestinal bacteria. Adding prebiotics to your diet might improve the function of your normal intestinal bacteria. Using prebiotics along with probiotics might make the probiotics more effective.
Fish oil has long been used to promote cholesterol health, but its benefits to Crohn’s patients have also been suggested. According to a medical journal article in the Cochrane Database of System Reviews, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, have anti-inflammatory properties. Since Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, a diet rich in omega-3s or omega-3 supplementation may reduce symptoms.
According to a small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), patients taking fish oil were twice as likely to remain in remission as those who took a placebo. (NEJM,1996). Talk to your doctor before starting fish oil supplementation. Taking high doses of fish oil, or taking it in combination with blood thinning medication, can lead to bleeding problems.
Acupuncture uses thin needles inserted into special points on your body. It is believed that this stimulates your brain to release endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that block pain. They may also strengthen your immune system and help fight infection.
Biofeedback is a form of relaxation therapy. With the help of a machine that monitors your body temperature, perspiration level, blood flow, and brain waves, you are able to see how your body responds to pain and learn to control these responses. Over time, you can learn to manage your muscle contractions and pain.
Talk to you doctor before trying any herbal or botanical treatments. Some can interact dangerously with medications you might be taking. They may also have undesirable side effects. Some herbal and botanical treatments reported to help ease the symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
- aloe vera juice
- slippery elm bark