Chinese Medicine Options for Treatment of Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis

As published in the Australia Crohns & Colitis Association (ACCA) magazine, Edition 1 WINTER 2006

Written by  Dr. Elaine Hickman, B.H.Sc.TCM (Acupuncture), Cert.Cl.Ac (Beijing).  Registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine


Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a unique, natural, effective and gentle approach to the treatment of Crohns Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). It can be used as a complimentary treatment to standard Western medical intervention.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is very useful in the treatment of chronic problems, whilst Western Medicine is particularly useful in the treatment of acute conditions.   There is much that needs to be done to improve outcomes for people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).  Many people find that a complimentary medicine approach can do just that. 


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views and treats inflammatory bowel disease somewhat differently to current orthodox Western Medical practice.  TCM holds that each patient is to be viewed as an individual, with a strong connection between mind and body, and to his/her environment.  This approach can be a great strength and help to patients suffering with Crohns and UC since we all know that chronic conditions do affect our state of mind, our families, and our ability to function in life.  TCM sees no other way to address and resolve a health problem.


To introduce you to how TCM perceives, prevents and treats Crohns Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, it is first necessary to explain some of the fundamentals of TCM theory.  An effective way to do this is to look at nature.  Our planet spins around its geographical axis, having a geometric field with a North and South pole.  The same magnetic force field is present in every living cell, each with its positive and negative pole.  The human body as a whole similarly has its own force field.  In China it is called qi (pronounced “chee”).  Qi is made up of energy that is in constant motion.1 


Qi flows through pathways in the body called meridians, which connect to our internal organs.  In order to have a healthy body and mind, qi needs to be in abundance and circulating freely.  Balance is also required.  The Chinese use the terms yin and yang to measure balance in health and life.  Yin and yang refer to relative polarities in nature.  Yin pertains to night, rest, passivity and femininity.  While Yang pertains to assertiveness, activity, day and the  masculine.


Essentially, a TCM practitioner assesses the state of Qi, Yin & Yang in a presenting patient.  This is mainly done by asking questions, looking at the tongue, feeling the radial pulse and the abdomen.  For cases of Crohns and UC, the internal organ systems are paid particular attention.  For chronic non-malignant inflammatory bowel disease, I usually see a presentation that TCM identifies as a Spleen deficiency.   Common symptoms of this are frequent and severe diarrhoea, watery stool with undigested food, dull abdominal pain, poor appetite, poor digestion and gastric discomfort after food intake, fatigue and lethargy due to chronic malabsorption and malnutrition.  Common signs are a pale face, pale tongue with a white coat.


Both Western and Chinese medicines recognize the importance of diet and its role in prevention and treatment of IBD. Western medicine acknowledges that dietary intake of certain factors may be linked to increased incidence of bowel inflammation, while Chinese medicine recognizes that dietary intake with excessive cold or raw food may injure the spleen and stomach.2  


TCM also recognises and addresses the effect that emotions, lifestyle and eating habits have on the bowel.  In addition to avoiding the wrong food, I also advise my patients to have adequate calorie and fluid intake as malnutrition and dehydration are common problems associated with IBD.


Not all presentations of Crohns and UC are treated in the same way.  TCM treatment could incorporate herbal medicine, acupuncture, laser acupuncture, acupressure, or electro-acupuncture to activate the homoeostatic mechanisms of the body.  Literally hundreds of different herbs can be used for the treatment and prevention of Crohns and UC.  To optimise safety, effectiveness and compatibility with other herbs, supplements and or pharmaceuticals, I strongly advise you to have Chinese herbs prescribed by a Chinese Medicine practitioner. 


I help my patients to develop a lifestyle that supports and maintains the benefits of the treatment.  I approach this using a fusion of Eastern and Western theory, ancient and modern techniques.  Some of the general key points are:

  • Minimise the intake of dairy products
  • Eat at regular times
  • Avoid over-eating
  • Avoid worrying
  • Practice abdominal massage

A holistic and individualised approach is best taken, so see a TCM practitioner for specific advice.


There is much that needs to be done to improve outcomes for people with Crohns Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.  An integrated approach of Western and Chinese Medicine may be a great help to you.


To find a qualified TCM practitioner in your area, call the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association on 1300 725 334.

(Editors note: it is strongly recommended that any complementary therapy be discussed with your practicing gastroenterologist before commencing treatment)



1 Listen to Your Body.  B. Guo & A. Powell, 2001, p.3-4

2 John K. Chen, PhD, PharmD, OMD, LAc Crohn’s Disease: Western and Oriental Perspectives, Part II

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