There are a number of medical treatments available to manage ulcerative colitis. Modern therapy is targeted at preventing flares and inducing remission (at least temporarily). These medications, however, have serious side effects, especially when taken for long periods. Corticosteroids, for example, can cause a number of cosmetic, psychological, and hormonal problems. Many patients simply cannot tolerate these medications. Children have particular problems with standard medications. When compliance with prescribed medicines is poor, treatment failure is common.1,2 Thus, many patients turn to natural remedies for their ulcerative colitis.
Dietary Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis
Some herbal or organic remedies may help promote gut health and prolong the time between remissions (flares).
- Dietary modification includes elimination of food allergens and optimizing living conditions. A relatively high proportion of Europeans (either primary or of European descent) have an allergy to gluten, a substance found in wheat. Anecdotal evidence suggests that gluten may aggravate ulcerative colitis symptoms3, but this is far from an established link.
- Some have advocated eliminating dairy products and high levels of carbohydrates from the diet.4
- Low-fat diets seem to be particularly useful in delaying the recurrence of ulcerative colitis.5 Olive oil, medium-chain triglycerides, omega-3 fatty acids, and fermentable fiber might have a protective effect.5
- Lifestyle modification includes adopting exercise and regular physical activity, stress-relieving therapies, and quitting smoking.6
- High fiber intake may be helpful in some patients. Besides improving bowel regularity, it may help in removal of toxins and chemicals from the body.
- High vitamin C intake has a protective effect. Vitamin C–rich foods are associated with a longer remission phase (these include berries, spinach, bell pepper, and parsley).7
- Similarly, elimination of alcohol, meat, processed foods, and high-carbohydrate foods may decrease the frequency and severity of flares.8
A few well-known home remedies for the management of ulcerative colitis include:
- Psyllium seed/husk enhance gut motility, alleviate the symptoms of constipation, and improve the elimination of waste.
- Boswellia is a naturally occurring herb obtained from the resin part of tree bark. The primary mode of action of boswellia in the management of ulcerative colitis is inhibition of certain chemical reactions that produce inflammatory mediators.9
- Bromelain is commercially available in supplemental formulations and includes proteolytic enzymes that alleviate the symptoms and reduce the frequency of flares.10
- Probiotics introduce healthy gut bacteria to restore and maintain a natural microbial flora in the gut.11 This may reduce harmful inflammatory responses and maintain remission.
- Turmeric, the spice used in curry, may help patients with ulcerative colitis. Specifically, the curcumin found in turmeric appears to improve the effectiveness of traditional medical therapy.12
- Gingko biloba has been effective in treating experimental colitis in rodents,13,14 but this has not been shown in humans.
Other Management Options for Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis causes a number of effects on the body besides gastrointestinal symptoms. Aside from medications, other interventions and lifestyle changes can help improve health and quality of life:
- Promptly treat anemia. Iron and folate absorption may be impaired if ulcerative colitis affects large portions of the gut. Moreover, in the case of gut flora imbalance, vitamin B12 deficiency may also develop. This needs to be identified and treated promptly.
- Dietary or nutritional supplements may be needed in growing children or adolescents with ulcerative colitis to maintain optimal growth and sexual development.
- Emotional stress is very strongly associated with ulcerative colitis, and stress-relieving exercises, yoga, and meditation are tremendously helpful in preventing relapse.
- Certain medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are very strongly associated with flaring of ulcerative colitis. Consult your physician before using an NSAID if you have ulcerative colitis.