Natural remedies for ulcerative colitis won't cure inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but they can reduce inflammation and flare-ups.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease are both inflammatory bowel diseases that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. UC causes inflammation only in the large intestine, but Crohn's causes inflammation anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. Most people with Crohn's, however, experience inflammation in the small intestine.
- Most people with UC experience chronic issues.
- Careful healthful dietary changes can reduce inflammation and prevent flare-ups.
- Natural remedies include beneficial bacteria, which can prevent harmful bacteria from causing inflammation.
Studies suggest that ginseng may help to reduce the symptoms of UC.
The symptoms can range from mild to severe and may change over time. Symptoms include:
- blood or pus in the stool
- weight loss or loss of appetite
- rapid heart rate
- abdominal pain and gastrointestinal problems
The most severe forms of UC can cause chronic pain and digestive problems, including vomiting, diarrhea, or the urgent need to use the bathroom. In some cases, it may produce up to 10 loose stools per day. People experiencing severe bouts of UC may become dehydrated, or lose so much blood they need a transfusion. Left untreated, this severe form of the disease can be fatal.
Natural remedies for UC do not always complement medical treatment and should not be considered a replacement for medical care.
Probiotics and other natural remedies
A complex colony of healthful bacteria helps support gut health and digestion. This gut biome is essential to digestion, immune function, blood clotting, and numerous other body processes. When there is not a healthy gut biome, UC symptoms get worse. When harmful bacteria overtake the digestive tract, symptoms of UC can also escalate.
The healthful gut biome can also protect the lining of the gut. Research supports the use of some probiotics:
- Sometimes known as Mutaflor, Escherichia coli Nissle is a harmless form of E. coli.
- Mixed blends of probiotics that include: Bifidobacterium breve, B. longum, B. infantis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. plantarum, L. paracasei, L. bulgaricus, or Streptococcus thermophiles.
- Ginseng may also reduce symptoms of UC. A 2008 study of mice published in Carcinogenesis found that American and red ginseng could lower inflammation and prevent DNA damage, potentially reducing the severity of flare-ups.
People should remember that supplements are not medication, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate them. Before purchasing any supplements, check the label to find out what is in them, and research the company's reputation.
Doctors can often recommend reputable supplement brands, but people with UC should know that probiotics and other supplements are not substitutes for UC medications.
Traditional UC remedies
Traditional remedies such as drugs and antibiotics can send UC into remission.
Some traditional remedies can send UC into remission. Treatment options include:
- Drugs to address symptoms, such as anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea pills. These medicines will not treat the underlying inflammation.
- Antibiotics to fight infections caused by UC. Antibiotics won't treat the underlying cause of IBD.
- Immune modifiers suppress the immune system to reduce inflammation. Immune modifiers can make people more vulnerable to infections.
- Biologics suppress the immune reaction that causes UC. They can weaken the body's ability to fight infection.
- Corticosteroids are steroid drugs that reduce the immune reaction that causes UC. They are not ideal for long-term use and can produce many side effects, including changes in mood, appetite, and sleep.
- Aminosalicylates decrease inflammation and work best in people with mild to moderate UC. They can cause a range of side effects, including dizziness and appetite loss.
All treatments have side effects, so people should discuss these as well as the risks and benefits with their doctor.
Keeping a food journal can be helpful since food sensitivities vary. People can work out what foods cause their flare-ups and eliminate them from their diet. There is no research supporting a specific dietary protocol for UC. However, anecdotal evidence supports some options. These include:
This diet aims to eliminate foods that are linked to increased inflammation while adding foods that can fight inflammatory symptoms. Some recommendations include:
- eliminating refined carbohydrates, such as white bread
- avoiding excess consumption of sugar
- avoiding packaged foods and processed meats
- eliminating or reducing the use of trans fats
- eating a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes
- eating antioxidant-rich foods, such as blueberries
Research suggests that apples and raspberries may help to reduce symptoms of UC.
Some chemicals found in plants (phytochemicals) may help reduce symptoms of UC. Research supports a diet that includes:
- bilberry or huckleberry
- black raspberry
- green tea
- olive oil
- Indian gooseberry
- the edible mushroom Agaricus blazei
Remaining nourished and healthy
Rather than eating or avoiding specific foods, some practical strategies may help reduce the symptoms of flare-ups. These include:
- Drinking plenty of water to remain hydrated, particularly during a bout of diarrhea.
- Drinking electrolyte drinks to maintain electrolyte balance when diarrhea threatens dehydration.
- Taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement to avoid calcium deficiency and bone loss. Many people with UC are calcium or vitamin D deficient.
- 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, particularly in people with UC who are malnourished.
- Eating a low-fiber diet.
- Reducing the consumption of greasy, buttery foods.
- Avoiding milk products. Many people with UC are lactose intolerant.
A few lifestyle changes can reduce symptoms of UC. These include:
- Therapy: Many people with UC experience depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or relationship problems. These issues can make it difficult to comply with treatment and may compound the effects of UC. Therapy and support groups can help.
- Exercise: Exercise plays a vital role in weight management, which may reduce symptoms of UC. It can also increase energy. Many people feel intense fatigue during a UC flare-up.