Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine for UC: types, benefits and more

Many people use alternative medicine to treat ulcerative colitis (UC) in addition to conventional treatment or as an alternative option. However, many people do not discuss this approach with their doctor, which could lead to adverse effects or interactions with their medications.

UC is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting between 600,000 and 900,000 people in the United States.

UC involves inflammation that starts in the rectum and can spread through the colon. Symptoms include:

People with UC have periods of relapse and remission. However, the disease is lifelong, and doctors aim to manage symptoms with long-term medication. A person may also explore other treatment options, such as diet or complementary therapies, to relieve symptoms.

This article takes a look at alternative medicine and defines different approaches. It explores what the research says about the potential benefits of alternative medicine for UC and advises when to see a doctor.

People often use the terms complementary, alternative, or integrative medicine interchangeably.

However, there are some differences between these terms. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health explains that when people use unconventional approaches with conventional medicine, the term for it is complementary.

However, if someone is using an unconventional approach instead of conventional medicine, the term is “alternative.”

Integrative health combines conventional and complementary approaches, treating the whole person rather than an organ system or condition. Sometimes people use the term complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to describe combination methods and therapies.

A 2020 review estimates that 21–77% of patients with IBD can use CAM, which has become more popular around the world over the past two decades.

Possible reasons people with IBD may use CAM include:

  • a lack of response to conventional medicine
  • better control their disease
  • perceive CAM as a safer alternative

However, the same review notes that a significant concern is that people with IBD do not tell their doctor that they are using alternative approaches or opting out of conventional treatments.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation reports that some studies have shown that complementary medicine may benefit IBD, but scientists need to do more research to confirm this. Some of the potential benefits of a complementary approach may include:

  • help control symptoms
  • ease the pain
  • contribute to a better quality of life
  • improve general attitudes towards health and well-being
  • positively affect the immune system

However, the foundation warns that complementary medicine will not cure IBD and that people should not use therapies to replace conventional health care.

There are different approaches to UC that someone may wish to consider. These may include:

  • nutrition
  • physical therapies
  • psychological therapies
  • supplements
  • herbal medicine

A person may use a combination of different strategies to manage their symptoms.

The following examines what the research says and outlines some potential benefits of various therapies for UC and IBD. It is important to note that some research on the effects of alternative medicine on IBD is inconclusive. Scientists need to conduct larger-scale human trials for medical professionals to recommend alternative treatments.

Read on for the different types of alternative medicine.

Specific diets

The Mediterranean diet can prevent malnutrition and to improve disease activity and inflammation.
Other diets may help restore gut bacteria and improve inflammation, such as:

Food supplements

A research study 2015 demonstrated that curcumin, the ingredient in turmeric, in combination with the drug mesalamine, can induce remission in people with UC.

Omega-3 fatty acids, often found in fish oil, have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to relieve intestinal inflammation in UC.

Other supplements, such as vitamin D and probiotics, may lessen inflammation, beneficial for the microbiome and to improve the quality of life of a person with UC.

Acupuncture

A study 2016 studied the use of complementary and alternative medicine in people with IBD and found improved pain relief, well-being, and symptoms.

Phytotherapy

2015 research exploration of herbal and herbal therapy found that aloe vera gel and wheatgrass induced remission. The research authors added that curcumin helped maintain remission. In addition, boswellia serrata gum resin and plantago ovata the seeds were as effective as the drug mesalazine.

Meditation and relaxation techniques

The European Crohn’s Colitis Organization recommends the following techniques for adults with IBD to improve their quality of life, such as:

Massage

The most common CAM for people with IBD was massage, according to study 2016.

Most people who have used the massage found it positive, adding that it was relaxing, relieved pain and improved well-being.

Chinese herbal medicine

A 2022 balance sheet study demonstrated that Chinese herbal medicine had the potential to relieve abdominal pain, diarrhea and inflammation.

Exercise

Voluntary exercise positively affects mood, weight maintenance and osteoporosis in people with UC.

2015 research indicates that although there is a high prevalence of CAM use among people with IBD, many do not discuss it with their doctor. Instead, many people get information about therapies from family and friends.

Other studies suggest that a reluctance to discuss alternative medicine with a doctor may impact a person’s adherence to conventional treatments.

However, a person considering alternative treatments for UC should discuss them with a medical professional, as herbal remedies or supplements may not be safe to take. Additionally, some supplements may interact with a person’s medications or cause adverse effects. Finally, restrictive diets can lead to nutrient deficiency, so a person should discuss their intentions with a dietitian before starting a specific diet.

Nutritional, physical, and psychological therapies can be beneficial for people with UC. These include supplements, herbal medicine and massage. Also, some specific diets can help alleviate symptoms, but people should consult a dietitian first, as these diets could lead to nutrient deficiency.

Many people who use CAM therapies do not discuss it with their doctor. However, consulting a healthcare professional is essential, as these medications may interact with supplements or herbs or cause adverse effects. It is advisable to continue conventional treatment unless advised otherwise by a doctor.