Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Many people with digestive disorders have used some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). However, there are few well-designed studies of their safety and effectiveness.

The majority of alternative therapies aren't regulated by the FDA. Manufacturers can claim that herbal and nutritional supplements are safe and effective but don't need to prove it. What's more, even natural herbs and supplements can have side effects and cause dangerous interactions. Tell your doctor if you decide to try an herbal supplement.

Some commonly used therapies include:

  • Probiotics. Researchers suspect that adding more of the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that are normally found in the digestive tract might help combat IBD. Although research is limited, there is some evidence that adding probiotics along with other medications may be helpful, but this has not been proved.
  • Fish oil. Fish oil acts as an anti-inflammatory, and there is some evidence that adding fish oil to aminosalicylates may be helpful, but this has not been proved. Fish oil can cause diarrhea.
  • Aloe vera. Aloe vera gel may have an anti-inflammatory effect for people with ulcerative colitis, but it also can cause diarrhea.
  • Turmeric. Curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, has been combined with standard ulcerative colitis therapies in clinical trials. There is some evidence of benefit, but more research is needed.
  • Acupuncture. This procedure involves the insertion of fine needles into the skin, which may stimulate the release of the body's natural painkillers. Only one clinical trial has been conducted regarding its benefit for ulcerative colitis.
  • Prebiotics. Unlike probiotics — which are beneficial live bacteria that you consume — prebiotics are natural compounds found in plants, such as artichokes, that help fuel beneficial intestinal bacteria. Studies have not shown positive results of prebiotics for people with Crohn's disease.
Sep. 27, 2014

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