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Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis


Updated June 10, 2014

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What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that results in chronic inflammation in digestive tract, usually in the large intestine (colon) and the rectum.

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Feeling of urgency
  • Inability to have a bowel movement despite the urge to do so
  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Weight loss

Symptoms may also occur outside the gut and include joint pain, eye inflammation, skin rashes and lesions, and mouth ulcers.

Natural Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis

There is no known cure for ulcerative colitis. Alternative therapies are popular among people with ulcerative colitis, however, they should complement, not replace, conventional care. Here are nine natural remedies that are used for ulcerative colitis.

1) Probiotics

Probiotics, "friendly" bacteria that reside in the gut, have been found to be effective in managing ulcerative colitis. They help control the number of potentially harmful bacteria, reduce inflammation, and improve the protective mucus lining of the gut.

Probiotics are among the more popular remedies for inflammatory bowel disease because they are without significant side effects and appear to be safe for most people.

A University of Alberta study examined 34 people with mild-to-moderate active ulcerative colitis who were unresponsive to conventional treatment. The researchers gave them a probiotic supplement called VSL#3, which provided a total of 3,600 billion bacteria a day for 6 weeks. At the end of the study, 18 people (53 percent) demonstrated remission on sigmoidoscopy and a further 8 people (24 percent) had a favorable response.

Researchers at the University of Dundee analyzed bacteria from rectal biopsies of patients with active ulcerative colitis and healthy control subjects. There were significantly less bifidobacterium numbers in the ulcerative colitis biopsies, which suggested that these probiotic bacteria might have a protective role in the disease. In a further study, 18 people with active ulcerative colitis were given a bifidobacterium supplement or a placebo for one month. Sigmoidoscopy, biopsy, and blood tests showed significant improvement in the probiotic group compared with the placebo group.

Related: Acidophilus and Other Probiotics.

An Italian study examined the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, which was previously found to be beneficial in the maintenance of the other inflammmatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease. Researchers gave 25 patients with a mild-to-moderate flare-up of ulcerative colitis a supplement containing 250 milligrams of Saccharomyces boulardii three times a day for 4 weeks during maintenance treatment with the drug mesalazine (these patients were unsuitable for steroid therapy). Of the 24 patients who completed the study, 17 had clinical remission, which was confirmed by endoscopic exam.

More on Saccaromyces Boulardii.

2) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Some studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil capsules, may reduce inflammation in people with ulcerative colitis.

A critical analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at controlled trials published from 1966 to 2003. Although the researchers concluded that more evidence is needed about the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids, three studies found that omega-3 fatty acids reduced corticosteroid requirements (statistical significance was shown in one of these studies.

  • Another study looked at the influence of fish oil and an elemental diet on the intestinal tissues of ulcerative colitis, Crohn's, and control patients and found the most marked anti-inflammatory effect in ulcerative colitis tissues.
  • Research conducted at the Cleveland Clinic looked at an oral supplement containing fish oil, soluble fiber, and antioxidants (vitamin E, C and selenium) on disease activity and medication use in adults with mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis. In the study, 86 patients with ulcerative colitis consumed 18 ounces of the supplement or a placebo each day for 6 months. Patients taking the oral supplement had a significantly greater rate of decreasing their dose of prednisone over 6 months compared with the placebo group. Both groups showed significant and similar improvement in clinical and histological responses.

More research on omega-3 fatty acids is needed, especially at differing doses, because not all studies have found a positive effect.

See Omega-3 Fatty Acids for more on using these essential fatty acid supplements.

3) Oral Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe vera gel has been found in studies to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

A double-blind, randomized trial examined the effectiveness and safety of aloe vera gel for the treatment of mild-to-moderate active ulcerative colitis. Researchers gave 30 patients 100 mL of oral aloe vera gel and 14 patients 100 milliliters of a placebo twice daily for 4 weeks.

Clinical remission, improvement and response occurred in nine (30 percent), 11 (37 percent) and 14 (47 percent) respectively, of aloe vera patients compared with one (7 percent), one (7 percent) and two (14 percent), respectively of patients taking the placebo. It appeared to be safe.

For more information about aloe vera, read Aloe Vera: What You Need to Know. Also find out about Aloe Vera Juice.

4) Boswellia

Boswellia is a herb that comes from a tree native to India. The active ingredient is the resin from the tree bark, which has been found to block chemical reactions involved in inflammation. It is used by people with ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions. Unlike anti-inflammatory medication, boswellia doesn't seem to cause gut irritation that can occur with many conventional pain relievers.

A 1997 study of people with ulcerative colitis found that 82 percent of those who took a boswellia extract 350 milligrams three times daily experienced remission. Rare side effects of bowellia include diarrhea, nausea, and skin rash.

Boswellia is available in pill form. It should say on the label that it is standardized to contain 60 percent boswellic acids. It should not be taken for more than 8 to 12 weeks unless under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.

More on Boswellia.

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