Ulcerative colitis is one of the two main types of inflammatory bowel disease. The symptoms occur in the large intestine and can be severe enough to make even simple daily activities more difficult.
Although natural remedies cannot cure UC, they may help a person find relief from symptoms and flare-ups. Symptoms typically include blood or pus in the stool, fever, and a loss of appetite, alongside anemia, a rapid heart rate, and digestive problems. UC may also interfere with a person’s self-esteem, relationships, and career.
The most severe forms of UC can cause chronic symptoms, including pain and digestive problems, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and the urgent need to use the bathroom. People experiencing severe bouts of UC may develop dehydration or lose a large amount of blood. Without treatment, these forms of UC can be fatal.
In this article, we highlight several natural remedies that may alleviate UC symptoms.
There are several natural options for people looking to manage UC.
Probiotics are living bacteria or microorganisms that promote the growth of healthful bacteria in the digestive tract. Some foods, such as yogurt, contain natural probiotics. Alternatively, a person can purchase probiotics over the counter at most large food shops and drugstores.
A 2019 study looked at how people with UC responded to using probiotics. The researchers found that 57% of those who used the probiotics reported a positive overall experience. Also, 50% of the responders noted an improvement in their symptoms, including stool frequency and texture.
It is important to note that supplements are not medications and that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate them. This lack of regulation means that quality can vary significantly among brands or even batches of products.
Before purchasing any supplements, a person should check the label to find out what is in them. They may also wish to research the company’s reputation and check their reviews.
People who are interested in probiotics should talk to a healthcare professional. Healthcare professionals can often recommend reputable supplement brands.
However, a probiotic cannot replace traditional medication. People should continue to take any current medications according to their prescriptions.
A 2019 review highlighted several natural substances that may reduce UC symptoms, including:
- Andrographis paniculata extract
- aloe vera gel
- wheatgrass juice
- Plantago ovata seeds
- Boswellia serrata gum resin
However, the review does not recommend any of these substances as a standalone treatment. The study authors suggest that people with UC should only use them as supplementary treatments alongside traditional medicines.
In some cases, a person with UC may find that making simple lifestyle changes provides some symptom relief. The following changes may be beneficial:
- making dietary changes
- participating in group therapy or joining support groups to help with the emotional effects of UC
- doing regular exercise, which can support weight management and increase energy levels
Specific dietary changes may make a difference in helping people reduce symptoms and flare-ups. These changes may include:
- drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration, particularly during a bout of diarrhea
- drinking electrolyte beverages, which can help a person maintain an electrolyte balance should diarrhea lead to dehydration
- taking calcium and vitamin D supplements to avoid calcium deficiency and bone loss, as many people with UC do not absorb enough of these nutrients
- eating several small meals each day rather than three large ones
- eating well and avoiding restrictive diets — even fast food is preferable to no food at all for people with UC, particularly those with malnourishment
- eating a low fiber diet
- reducing the consumption of greasy, buttery foods
- avoiding milk products, as many people with UC have lactose intolerance
Some people may find that keeping a food journal can be helpful. By recording their food intake and symptoms, a person can work out which foods trigger flare-ups and then eliminate them from their diet.
There is no research supporting a specific diet plan for UC. However, some research indicates that certain chemical plant compounds called phytochemicals may help alleviate symptoms of UC.
In 2014, a review of studies found that phytochemicals from apples, cocoa, green tea, and other foods and supplements could reduce UC symptoms in animals. However, the review indicates a need for further studies to determine the benefits of these compounds in humans.
Natural remedies can help relieve UC, but people should use them alongside standard treatments that the doctor prescribes.
Long-term treatment with medications aims to prevent flares and reduce the impact of symptoms.
A doctor can prescribe a variety of different medications to treat bowel inflammation.
Current guidelines recommend long-term treatment with one of the following drug types:
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) antagonists, such as infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira)
- anti-integrin agents, such as vedolizumab (Entyvio)
- Janus kinase inhibitors, for example, tofacitinib (Xeljanz)
- interleukin 12/23 antagonists, for instance, ustekinumab (Stelara)
- immunomodulators, such as the thiopurines azathioprine (Azasan) and methotrexate (Rheumatrex)
- 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA), if they work well for an individual
These drugs are immune modifiers. They work by suppressing the immune system to reduce inflammation. They can have adverse effects, but a doctor will discuss a suitable treatment plan with the individual.
Some short-term medical options include:
- medications to relieve specific symptoms, such as nausea or diarrhea
- antibiotics to fight infections that may occur due to UC
- corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
A person should talk to their doctor about potential side effects when they receive a prescription for a new medication.
A person may be able to alleviate their symptoms by using some natural remedies alongside conventional treatments. Making dietary changes, taking probiotics, and exercising regularly can often help.
However, a person should always take medication according to their doctor’s instructions. If a person experiences any unwanted side effects from medications, they should talk to their doctor about their symptoms.
Having the support of people who have had similar experiences is vital in the management of ulcerative colitis. IBD Healthline is a free app for people who have received a UC diagnosis. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play. Download it here.