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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Ulcerative Colitis (Holistic)
Help reduce inflammation and prevent relapses by taking a daily supplement delivering 5.4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids
Improve your symptoms, and your chances for remission, by drinking 100 ml of an Aloe vera herbal extract twice a day
Reduce severity and encourage remission by taking 550 mg of boswellia gum resin three times a day
Visit a qualified health professional regularly to detect and treat nutritional deficiencies caused by colitis
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the colon, which is relatively common but
remains poorly understood.
Diagnosis must be made by a healthcare practitioner—typically a gastroenterologist. Irritable bowel syndrome, a completely unrelated and less serious condition, was sometimes called mucous colitis in the past. As a result, the general term "colitis" is still sometimes used inappropriately to refer to irritable bowel syndrome. It is critical that people who
are diagnosed with "colitis" find out whether they have irritable bowel syndrome or UC.
UC is characterized by frequent abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms may include fatigue, weight loss, decreased appetite, and nausea.
For unknown reasons, smokers have a lower risk of UC. The nicotine patch has actually been used to induce remissions in people with UC,1 although this treatment has been ineffective in preventing relapses.2 On the other hand, Crohn's disease, which is in many ways similar to UC, is made worse by smoking.3 Despite the possible protective effect of smoking in people with UC, a strong case can be made that risks of smoking outweigh the benefits; even the use of nicotine patches carries its own side effects and remains experimental.
In two studies, people with a high intake of animal fat, cholesterol, or margarine had a significantly increased risk of UC, compared with people who consumed less of these fats. Although these associations do not prove cause-and-effect, reducing one's intake of animal fats and margarine is a means of improving overall health and possibly UC as well.
There is preliminary evidence that people who eat fast food at least twice a week have
nearly four times the risk of developing UC than people who do not eat fast
In a preliminary study, 39 patients with mild to moderate ulcerative
colitis experienced significant improvement after receiving 30 grams (about 1
oz) per day of a germinated barley product for four weeks. Controlled trials are needed to confirm this report.
More than a half-century ago, several doctors reported that food allergies play an important role in some cases of UC. Since that time, many doctors have observed that avoidance of allergenic foods will often reduce the severity of UC and can sometimes completely control the condition. In other old studies, milk has been reported to trigger UC, and people with UC were found to have antibodies to milk in their blood, a possible sign of allergy. Today the relationship between food allergies and UC remains controversial and is not generally accepted by the conventional medical community. People who wish to explore the possibility that food sensitivities may trigger their symptoms may wish to consult with an appropriate healthcare provider.
Our proprietary "Star-Rating" system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
Aloe vera juice has anti-inflammatory activity and been used by some doctors for people with UC. In a double-blind study of people with mildly to moderately active ulcerative colitis, supplementation with aloe resulted in a complete remission or an improvement in symptoms in 47% of cases, compared with 14% of those given a placebo (a statistically significant difference). No significant side effects were seen. The amount of aloe used was 100 ml (approximately 3.5 ounces) twice a day for four weeks. Other traditional anti-inflammatory and soothing herbs, including calendula, flaxseed, licorice, marshmallow, myrrh, and yarrow. Many of these herbs are most effective, according to clinical experience, if taken internally as well as in enema form. Enemas should be avoided during acute flare-ups but are useful for mild and chronic inflammation. It is best to consult with a doctor experienced with botanical medicine to learn more about herbal enemas before using them. More research needs to be done to determine the effectiveness of these herbs.
A small clinical study found that people with UC taking 550 mg of boswellia gum resin three times daily for six weeks had similar improvement in symptoms and the severity of their disease as people with UC taking the drug sulfasalazine. Overall, 82% of patients receiving boswellia, along with 75% of patients taking sulfasalazine, went into remission.
A fatty acid called butyrate, which is synthesized by intestinal bacteria, serves as fuel for the cells that line the small intestine. Administration of butyrate by enema has produced marked improvement in people with UC in most,but not all, preliminary trials. Butyrate taken by mouth is not likely to be beneficial, as sufficient quantities do not reach the colon by this route. Although butyrate enemas are not widely available, they can be obtained by prescription through a compounding pharmacy, which prepares customized prescription medications to meet individual patient needs.
In a preliminary trial, 6 of 13 people with ulcerative colitis went into remission after taking 200 mg per day of DHEA for eight weeks. This large amount of DHEA has the potential to cause adverse side effects and should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.
Preliminary and double-blind trials have found that fish oil supplementation reduces inflammation, decreases the need for anti-inflammatory drugs, and promotes normal weight gain in people with UC. However, fish oil has not always been effective in clinical trials for UC. Amounts used in successful clinical trials provided 3.2 grams of EPA and 2.2 grams of DHA per day—the two important fatty acids found in fish oil.
In a preliminary trial, people with UC significantly improved on a sugar-free, low-allergen diet with additional nutritional supplementation that included a multivitamin-mineral supplement (2–6 tablets per day); a fish oil supplement (400 mg per day); borage oil (400 mg per day); flaxseed oil (400 mg per day); and a probiotic formula containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and other species of beneficial bacteria. Some participants received slight variations of this regimen. Since so many different supplements were given and since the trial was not controlled, it is not possible to say which, if any, of the nutrients was responsible for the improvement observed by the researchers.
UC is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. Studies have found that people with UC who take folic acid supplements or who have high blood levels of folic acid have a reduced risk of colon cancer compared with people who have UC and do not take folic acid supplements. Although these associations do not prove that folic acid was responsible for the reduction in risk, this vitamin has been shown to prevent experimentally induced colon cancer in animals. Moreover, low blood folic acid levels have been found in more than half of all people with UC. People with UC who are taking the drug sulfasalazine, which inhibits the absorption of folic acid, are at a particularly high risk of developing folic acid deficiency. Folic acid supplementation may therefore be important for many people with UC. Since taking folic acid may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, however, people with UC who wish to take folic acid over the long term should have their vitamin B12 status assessed by a physician.
Alcohol consumption is known to promote folic acid deficiency and has also been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. People with UC should, therefore, keep alcohol intake to a minimum.
In preliminary and double-blind trials, a probiotic supplement (in this case, a non-disease-causing strain of Escherichia coli) was effective at maintaining remission in people with UC. In a double-blind trial, a combination probiotic supplement containing Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, and a beneficial strain of Streptococcus has been shown to prevent pouchitis, a common complication of surgery for UC. People with chronic relapsing pouchitis received either 3 grams per day of the supplement or placebo for nine months. Eighty-five percent of those who took the supplement had no further episodes of pouchitis during the nine-month trial, whereas 100% of those receiving placebo had relapses within four months. Preliminary and double-blind research suggests that combination probiotic supplements may be effective at promoting recovery and preventing UC relapses as well.
German doctors practicing herbal medicine often recommend chamomile for people with colitis. A cup of strong tea drunk three times per day is standard, along with enemas using the tea when it reaches body temperature.
Caution: It is likely that there are many drug interactions with St. John's wort that have not yet been identified. St. John's wort stimulates a drug-metabolizing enzyme (cytochrome P450 3A4) that metabolizes at least 50% of the drugs on the market. Therefore, it could potentially cause a number of drug interactions that have not yet been reported. People taking any medication should consult with a doctor or pharmacist before taking St. John's wort.
Curcumin is a compound in turmeric (Curcuma longa) that has been reported to have anti-inflammatory activity. In a preliminary trial, five of five people with chronic ulcerative proctitis (a condition similar to ulcerative colitis) had an improvement in their disease after supplementing with curcumin. The amount of curcumin used was 550 mg twice a day for one month, followed by 550 mg three times a day for one month. In a double-blind trial, supplementation with curcumin in the amount of 1 gram twice a day for six months decreased the relapse rate in patients with ulcerative colitis in remission. The relapse rate was 4.7% among people receiving curcumin and 20.5% in the placebo group, a statistically significant difference. All patients in the study also received conventional therapy.
1. Pullan RD, Rhodes J, Ganesh S, et al. Transdermal nicotine for active ulcerative colitis. N Engl J Med 1994;330:811-5.
2. Thomas GA, Rhodes J, Mani V, et al. Transdermal nicotine as maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis. N Engl J Med 1995;332:988-92.
3. Rhodes J, Thomas GA. Smoking: good or bad for inflammatory bowel disease? Gastroenterol 1994;106:907-10 [editorial].
Last Review: 06-08-2015
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