Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Many people with inflammatory bowel disease have used some form of alternative or complementary therapy. Side effects and ineffectiveness of conventional therapies may be among the reasons for seeking alternative care.

These therapies generally aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers can claim that their therapies are safe and effective, but don't need to prove it. Because even natural herbs can have side effects and cause dangerous interactions, talk to your doctor before trying any alternative or complementary therapies.

Currently, no alternative therapies have good evidence supporting their use in treating IBD, but some that may eventually prove beneficial include:

  • Probiotics. Because bacteria in the gut have been implicated in ulcerative colitis, researchers suspect that adding more of the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that are normally found in the gut might help combat the disease.
  • Fish oil. Fish oil acts as an anti-inflammatory, but studies on its possible benefits for people with ulcerative colitis have had conflicting results.
  • Aloe vera. Aloe vera juice has been purported to have an anti-inflammatory effect for people with ulcerative colitis, but there's no strong evidence to back this claim. In addition, when ingested, aloe vera can have a laxative effect.
  • Acupuncture. Several studies have found acupuncture to be of benefit to people with ulcerative colitis. The procedure involves the insertion of fine needles into the skin, which may stimulate the release of the body's natural painkillers.
  • Curcumin. This compound comes from the spice turmeric. Curcumin combined with standard ulcerative colitis therapies, such as corticosteroids or sulfasalazine, has helped improve symptoms and allowed smaller doses of the standard drugs to be used. However, this evidence comes from two small studies. More research is needed before this treatment can be recommended.
Dec. 13, 2012