Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Many people with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's 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 ulcerative colitis, but some that may eventually prove beneficial include:

  • Probiotics. Because bacteria in the intestine have been implicated in ulcerative colitis, researchers suspect that adding more of the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that are normally found in the digestive tract 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.
  • Tumeric. Curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, has been combined with standard ulcerative colitis therapies, such as corticosteroids or sulfasalazine, in clinical trials. This combination helped improve symptoms and allowed smaller doses of the standard drugs to be used. This evidence comes from two small studies, however. More research is needed before this treatment can be recommended.

If you decide to try an alternative therapy, be sure to tell your doctor so that he or she can let you know about any potential interactions. You can also find out if a particular therapy has been studied in reputable trials by calling the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at 888-644-6226 or by looking on its website.

Oct. 10, 2012