What is Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is a chronic bowel condition that inflames the lining of the digestive tract and makes it difficult to digest food, absorb nutrition, and have regular bowel movements. Currently, there’s no cure for the disease, but you can manage its symptoms with conventional medical therapies.

If you’re living with Crohn’s disease and already treating it with medication, you may be wondering about complementary therapies, too. When used in combination with the treatment plan your doctor prescribed, these natural options may also help ease the discomfort associated with Crohn’s disease. The following six complementary therapies have been shown to be effective in managing Crohn’s symptoms.

Talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.

Crohn’s disease affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Taking supplements can help to alleviate several Crohn’s-related vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Some people with Crohn’s may develop anemia due to blood loss from inflammation of the intestines. Iron supplements, taken either orally or through an IV, are an effective way to manage anemia.

If you have Crohn’s, you may also want to consider taking vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D helps to metabolize calcium and keep your bones healthy — two things that can be affected by Crohn’s.

Some people with Crohn’s have ileitis, which affects the lower portion of the small intestine where vitamin B-12 is absorbed. If this applies to you, you may want to consider oral B-12 supplements, intramuscular injections, or nasal spray, depending on the severity of the condition.

Remember to consult with your doctor before taking any new supplements. There’s a possibility that they may interfere with medication you’re currently taking.

“I’ve found that a gluten-free diet with minimal processed foods help to keep my Crohn’s symptoms to a minimum. Foods that make me feel energized, strong, and keep my digestion happy are bone broth, avocado, simply prepared meats, and white rice to name my favorites.”
— Alexa Federico

Probiotics are a form of good bacteria that can help to maintain balance in the intestine. They also keep harmful bacteria from overgrowing and causing digestive problems.

Evidence suggests that using probiotics can help people with Crohn’s maintain remission. Probiotics may also help prevent a condition called pouchitis that sometimes occurs following colon surgery.

Probiotics are generally considered to be safe. They’re available in a variety of forms, including capsules and powders, and found in foods such as yogurt, miso, and tempeh.

Turmeric is a spice that’s been used as a medicinal herb in India for centuries. Due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties of one of its main compounds, curcumin, it’s often used as a complementary treatment for Crohn’s.

It can be taken orally as a supplement or in its powdered form by mixing it with water. Turmeric can also be sprinkled directly onto foods, though this method may not provide enough curcumin to get the desired anti-inflammatory effects.

Turmeric is considered safe for general use in people with Crohn’s disease. In some cases, it may cause symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapeutic practice that involves placing thin needles into the skin to stimulate specific sites known as acupoints.

Research has shown that acupuncture can be useful for treating Crohn’s disease. Its effect on cellular responses and secretions can both reduce inflammation and reverse tissue damage.

Aside from some mild bleeding and superficial hematomas around the acupoints, the side effects of acupuncture aren’t typically severe. It’s generally considered safe for use.

Practicing mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation can also be beneficial for Crohn’s. Since people with Crohn’s often have higher rates of stress and anxiety, employing mindfulness practices can help prevent stress from exacerbating symptoms and flare-ups.

Introductory yoga classes are available at most gyms and community centers. If you feel more comfortable practicing yoga at home, there are plenty of instructional videos online. Meditation and deep breathing exercises can also be found online, and are surprisingly easy to follow.

Mindfulness techniques can significantly improve your quality of life, even when you’re not suffering a Crohn’s flare-up. And, they don’t come with any side effects!

Getting regular exercise is always a good idea, and it’s been shown to help with Crohn’s disease, too. Not only will it improve your general well-being, but it can also boost your bone mineral density and lower your rate of relapse for certain symptoms.

Additionally, exercise boosts the release of IL-6, a protein-coding gene that can increase peptides involved in repairing intestinal damage.

Although most forms of exercise are considered safe, some physical activity can exacerbate certain symptoms of Crohn’s, such as fatigue, joint pain, and diarrhea. Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routines.

“Exercise has helped me massively. At the start of my diagnosis, I wouldn’t be able to run more than 18 seconds on the treadmill without needing to rush to the toilet. However, once my body was in a more stable state of remission, I began to re-introduce exercise again and it has done wonders for both my body and mind, helping me feel stronger and more in control.”
— Loïs Mills

If you currently have a prescribed treatment plan for Crohn’s and you’re curious about complementary therapies, you might want to try one of the options above.

However, if you try a complementary therapy and think it’s aggravating your symptoms, stop and contact your doctor immediately.