Herbal Medicine for people living with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis
Most cultures, including the West, have a continuous history of the use of substances from nature to treat illness. Until recently, most Western medicines were based on plants and other natural substances. Herbal Medicine is becoming increasingly popular and accepted as, if used properly, it is safe, natural and very effective. Herbal Medicine can be used to assist people living with Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis by boosting the immune system, improving general wellbeing, and decreasing inflammation in the bowel. Many drugs commonly prescribed for these conditions have potential adverse side effects. It is therefore important to identify well tolerated medicines that can help induce and maintain remission.
Note: Herbal Medicine can be used safely in conjunction with pharmaceutical drugs. All you need is accurate information and advice. The best source of this information is your treating gastroenterologist, GP, or herbalist. Self-administration without professional advice can be ineffective or dangerous. Even though most specialists and GP’s have no training in herbal medicine, they will receive information about any reactions and contraindications between medicines. A qualified herbalist, either Chinese Medicine Practitioner or Naturopath, will be able to prescribe herbs which could help you.
Herbal Medicine is the use of mostly plant parts (leaves, twigs, bark, roots and seeds) to treat illness. There are specific herbs and supplements which can be used to decrease inflammation in the gut, protect the lining of the bowel and boost immunity:
- 1. Turmeric
- Turmeric may have a protective role in ulcerative colitis through regulation of oxidant/anti-oxidant balance and modulation of the release of some inflammatory agents.1
- 2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Some studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, may reduce inflammation in people with Crohn’s Disease. More research on omega-3 fatty acids is needed, especially at differing doses, because not all studies have found a positive effect. There were no serious side effects in any of the studies.2
- 3. Glutamine
- Glutamine is an essential amino acid is known to play a key role in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal mucosa (lining). Glutamine supplementation has been shown to reduce intestinal permeability (Hond 1999), prevent mucosal atrophy and maintain gut integrity (Van der Hurst 1993).3
- 4. Probiotics
- Probiotics are living microorganisms that are thought to benefit health by altering the growth of bacteria in the intestines thereby reducing inflammation. Probiotics have been found to be effective in managing inflammatory bowel disease. They help control the number of potentially harmful bacteria, reduce inflammation, and improve the protective mucus lining of the gut.4
- 5. Oral Aloe Vera Gelhas been found in studies to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the bowel.5
- 6. Boswelliahas been found to block chemical reactions involved in inflammation. Unlike anti-inflammatory medication, Boswellia doesn’t seem to cause gut irritation that can occur with many conventional pain relievers. Boswellia should not be taken for more than 8 to 12 weeks unless under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.5
- 7. Folic Acid
People with chronic ulcerative colitis are at greater risk of colon cancer. A study found that dietary Folic Acid supplementation significantly suppressed ulcerative colitis-associated colon cancer.5
- 8. Chinese Medicinal Herbs
Different Chinese Medicinal Herbs are used according to the nature and severity of the inflammatory bowel disease. These herbs include: rhizoma zedoaria, caulis fibraureae, cortex moutan radicis (moutan bark), semen presicae (peach seed), radix notoginseng, radix achyranthis bidentatae, rhizoma atractylodis, cortex cinnamomi (cinnamon bark), poria, radix ledebouriellae, radix aucklandiae, radix paeoniae rubra (red peony), rhizoma atractylodis macrocephalae (Fan 1999).6
Taking a single herb or supplement can be helpful. Taking a combination of herbs can increase the effect exponentially. In fact, the most effective way to use Herbal Medicine is to take a specific combination or mixture. This can be in liquid, powder, granule, pill or raw (cook it yourself!) form. Pill form is the most popular way to take herbs because they are easy to take and don’t taste unpleasant! Over centuries (or thousands of years in Chinese Medicine’s case), herbalists have worked out how to best combine groups of herbs to maximise effectiveness and minimise (or eradicate) side effects. Just like people, some herbs will work well together, some wont. Some herbs, when mixed together will work much better than when used separately. This use of synergy, and individualisation to your particular case, is where Herbal Medicine becomes very effective. Herbal Medicine is an exact science, so dosage and ratios are crucial. One herbal remedy or supplement will not work for all cases of Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Having a Chinese Medicine practitioner or Naturopath tailor a prescription specifically for you will give you the best results.
Herbal Medicine can be used to boost the immune system, improve general wellbeing, and decrease inflammation in the bowel. Seeing a qualified herbalist who has the skills and experience to help you can be life changing. Since I was asked to write an article for ACCA in 2006, I’ve treated many people with Crohn’s and UC. 95% of those patients had very positive changes in their symptoms, most within 4 weeks. I’ve helped people significantly reduce their medication needs. Treatment is relatively low cost, and in some cases, after an initial consultation and prescription, herbal pills can be posted to you, with only a brief follow-up consultation needed to assess your response and review the prescription. The best practitioner will give you herbal medicine that works, that can be easy and convenient to take.
By Dr. Elaine HickmanB.H.Sc. TCM (Acupuncture), Cert.Cl.Ac (Beijing)
Freedom Chinese Medicine
261 Waterdale Road, Ivanhoe, Victoria 3079
Ph. 03) 9486 5966
- 1. Kumar S, Ahuja V, Vishnubhatla S, Prasad K, Kumar A. Curcumin for maintenance of remission in ulcerative colitis (Protocol). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 3.
- 2. Turner D, Zlotkin SH, Shah PS, Griffiths AM. Omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) for maintenance of remission in Crohn’s disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1.
- 3. Srinivasan R, Akobeng AK. Glutamine for induction of remission in Crohn’s disease (Protocol). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 4.
- 4. Butterworth AD, Thomas AG, Akobeng AK. Probiotics for induction of remission in Crohn’s disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 3
- 5. Ulcerative Colitis Remedies By Cathy Wong, About.com Guide Updated February 14, 2008
- 6. Gan T, Wang Y, Jin SJ, Tian L. Traditional Chinese medicinal herbs for induction of remission in ulcerative colitis (Protocol). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 4.
Turner D, Steinhart AH, Griffiths AM. Omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) for maintenance of remission in ulcerative colitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 3
De Ley M, de Vos R, Hommes DW, Stokkers PC. Fish oil for induction of remission in ulcerative colitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4.