Many people use alternative medicine to treat ulcerative colitis (UC) in addition to conventional treatment or as an alternative option. However, many individuals do not discuss this approach with their doctor, which could lead to adverse effects or interactions with their medication.

UC is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting between 600,000 and 900,000 people in the United States.

UC involves inflammation that starts in the rectum and can extend through the colon. Symptoms include:

People with UC have periods of relapse and remission. However, the disease is lifelong, and doctors aim to manage symptoms with medication in the long term. A person may also explore alternative treatment options, such as diet or complementary therapies, to relieve symptoms.

This article looks at alternative medicine and defines different approaches. It explores what the research says about the potential benefits of alternative medicine for UC and advises when to consult a doctor.

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People often use the terms complementary, alternative, or integrative medicine interchangeably.

However, there are some differences between these terms. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health explains that when people use nonmainstream approaches with conventional medicine, the term for this is complementary.

However, if someone uses a nonmainstream approach instead of conventional medicine, the term is “alternative.”

Integrative health combines conventional and complementary approaches, treating the whole person rather than one organ system or condition. Sometimes people use the term complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to describe combined methods and therapies.

A 2020 review estimates that 21–77% of IBD patients may use CAM, which has become more popular worldwide in the past two decades.

Possible reasons that people with IBD may use CAM include:

  • a lack of response to conventional medicine
  • having greater control over their disease
  • perceiving CAM to be a safer alternative

However, the same review notes that a significant concern is that people with IBD do not tell their doctors they are using alternative approaches or withdrawing from conventional treatments.

The Crohns and Colitis Foundation advises that some studies have shown that complementary medicine may benefit IBD, but scientists need to carry out more research to confirm this. Some of the potential benefits of a complementary approach may include:

  • helping control symptoms
  • easing pain
  • contributing to a better quality of life
  • improving general attitudes toward health and well-being
  • positively affecting the immune system

However, the foundation cautions that complementary medicine will not cure IBD and that people should not use therapies to replace conventional healthcare.

There are various approaches to UC that someone may wish to consider. These may include:

  • nutrition
  • physical therapies
  • psychological therapies
  • supplements
  • herbal medicine

A person may use a combination of different strategies to manage their symptoms.

The following looks at what the research says and outlines some potential benefits of various therapies on UC and IBD. It is important to note that certain research on alternative medicine’s effects on IBD is inconclusive. Scientists need to conduct larger-scale human trials for medical professionals to recommend alternative treatments.

Read on for the different types of alternative medicines.

Specific diets

The Mediterranean diet may avoid malnutrition and improve disease activity and inflammation.
Other diets may help restore gut bacteria and improve inflammation, such as:

Dietary supplements

A 2015 research study demonstrated that curcumin, the ingredient in turmeric, in combination with the medication mesalamine, may induce remission in people with UC.

Omega-3 fatty acids, which often feature in fish oil, feature anti-inflammatory properties which may help relieve intestinal inflammation in UC.

Other supplements, such as vitamin D and probiotics, may decrease inflammation, benefit the microbiome, and improve the quality of life for a person with UC.


A 2016 study investigated the use of complementary and alternative medicine in people with IBD and found an improvement in pain relief, well-being, and symptoms.

Herbal medicine

Research from 2015 exploring herbal and plant therapy found that aloe vera gel and wheatgrass induced remission. The research authors added that curcumin helped maintain remission. Additionally, boswellia serrata gum resin and plantago ovata seeds were as effective as the medication mesalazine.

Meditation and relaxation techniques

The European Crohn’s Colitis Organisation recommends the following techniques for adults with IBD to improve their quality of life, such as:


The most common CAM among people with IBD was massage, according to a 2016 study.

Most individuals who used massage found it positive, adding that it was relaxing, provided pain relief, and improved well-being.

Chinese herbal medicine

A 2022 review study demonstrated that Chinese herbal medicine had the potential to relieve abdominal pain, diarrhea, and inflammation.


Voluntary exercise positively affects mood, weight maintenance and osteoporosis in people with UC.

Research from 2015 indicates that although there is a high prevalence of CAM use among people with IBD, many do not discuss this with their doctors. Instead, many individuals get information about therapies from their family and friends.

Other studies suggest that a reluctance to discuss alternative medicine with a doctor may impact a person’s adherence to conventional treatments.

However, someone considering alternative treatments for UC must discuss this with a healthcare professional, as herbal remedies or supplements may not be safe to take. Additionally, some supplements may interact with a person’s medication or cause adverse effects. Finally, restrictive diets may lead to nutrient deficiency, so a person must discuss their intentions with a dietitian before commencing a specific diet.

Nutritional, physical, and psychological therapies may benefit people with UC. These include supplements, herbal medicine, and massage. Additionally, some specific diets may help alleviate symptoms, but people must check with a dietitian first, as these eating plans could lead to a nutrient deficiency.

Many people who use CAM therapies do not discuss this with their doctor. However, consulting a healthcare professional is essential, as these medications may interact with supplements or herbs or lead to adverse effects. It is advisable to continue conventional treatment unless a doctor suggests otherwise.