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Complementary medicine may be a good bet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Harold Mandel's picture
Yoga for relaxation

A chronic inflammatory condition of the bowel is generally painful and frightening. People who suffer from such conditions would like to think it has occurred from food poisoning or an infection and that it will quickly pass away. However, when the condition is not due to these factors concerns set in due to chronic discomfort and pain leading to a great deal of disability.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) as being a term which describes conditions with chronic or recurring immune response and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the two most common inflammatory bowel diseases.

IBD has been ranked as being among the five most prevalent gastrointestinal disease burdens in the United States, with an overall health care cost of greater than $1.7 billion. There is no medical cure for this chronic condition which commonly requires a lifetime of care. There are greater than 700,000 physician visits, 100,000 hospitalizations, and disability in 119,000 patients every year from this condition. Greater than 75 percent of patients with Crohn’s disease and 25 percent of those with ulcerative colitis will eventually require surgery.

Many people living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in order to supplement conventional interventions to assist in easing their symptoms, writes The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. CAM is an umbrella term which is used to encompass many treatment options. This is defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) as a group of "diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered part of conventional medicine."

It is generally advised that complementary therapies be used together with conventional treatment. The term “alternative” generally means replacing the treatment you receive from your doctor with one or more interventions which fall outside of mainstream medicine. It is recommended by The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation (CCFA) that anyone considering the use of CAM interventions should discuss them with their doctor, and use CAM as a complement to prescribed medications instead of as an alternative to other treatments recommended by physicians. CAM therapies may help to control symptoms and ease pain, while enhancing feelings of well-being and quality of life. CAM and may also improve the immune system response.

Exercise is also beneficial for patients with irritable bowel syndrome, writes EmaxHealth reporter Denise Reynolds, RD.

There are four major domains of CAM defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), as follows:

1: Mind-Body Medicine

2: Manipulative and Body-Based Practices

3: Energy Medicine

4: Biologically-Based Practices

In mind-body medicine the interventions are focused on the interplay which exists between various factors and health, including:

1: Emotional

2: Mental

3: Social

4: Spiritual

5: Behavioral factors

Some good examples of mind-body medicine are:

1: Prayer

2: Tai chi

3: Hypnosis

4: Meditation

5: Biofeedback

6: Yoga

Manipulation or movement of one or more parts of the body is used as a method of achieving health and healing with manipulative and body-based practices. Examples of these type of practices include:

1: Chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation

2: Massage

3: Reflexology

4: Rolfing

5: Alexander technique

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6: Craniosacral therapy

7: Trager bodywork

With a view of energy medicine illness is seen as being due to disturbances of subtle energies. There are two types of energy fields used in energy medicine. Energy fields which are said to surround and penetrate the body are used in biofield therapies. With this type of therapy there is an application of pressure or the placement of hands in or directly through these energy fields. Reiki, qi gong, and therapeutic touch are examples of energy medicine. With bioelectromagnetic oriented therapies electromagnetic fields are used for the purposes of healing. Magnetic therapy, sound energy therapy, and light therapy are examples of bioelectromagnetic therapy

Substances which are found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins to strengthen, heal, and balance the body, are used in biologically oriented practices. Examples of these substances are:

1: Dietary supplements such as vitamins

2: Probiotics

3: Prebiotics

4: Herbal products

5: Fatty acids

6: Amino acids

7: Functional foods

There are dietary supplements which are specifically recommended for people suffering from Crohn’s and colitis because inflammatory bowel disease can potentially lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

People who are suffering from ileitis, which is Crohn's disease that affects the ileum, and people who have undergone small bowel surgery may have vitamin B-12 deficiency. Diet and oral vitamin supplements may not correct this deficiency. Therefore a monthly intramuscular injection of vitamin B-12 or once weekly via nasal spray may be needed.

Folic acid, which is another B vitamin, may be deficient in IBD patients who take the drug sulfasalazine or methotrexate. They should take a folate tablet, 1 mg daily, as a supplement. Vitamin D deficiency is also often seen in people suffering with Crohn's disease. Vitamin D is needed for good bone formation and for the metabolism of calcium. It is generally recommended to take a vitamin D supplement of 800 IU per day, particularly for patients with active bowel symptoms.

A calcium deficiency can result from a vitamin D deficiency which can also be seen in people with Crohn’s disease in the small intestine or in people who have had a section of the intestine removed surgically. Due to an impaired ability to absorb calcium, supplementation of at least 1,500 mg of calcium daily is generally recommended.

People with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease may also experience iron deficiency anemia, which is the result of blood loss following inflammation and ulceration of the intestines. Iron supplementation is therefore recommended in these cases. Iron can be given as tablets or liquid. Intravenous infusions of iron are also sometimes used.

Probiotics are helpful to restore the proper balance of these beneficial bacteria in the body. These are available in the form of dietary supplements such as capsules, tablets, and powders, or in or foods, which include:

1: Yogurt

2: Fermented and unfermented milk

3: Miso

4: Tempeh

5: Soy beverages

Evidence suggests that use of probiotics may benefit people suffering from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis in order to help maintain remission.

There are anti-inflammatory effects associated with omega-3 fatty acids which are found in fatty fish such as:

1: Salmon

2: Mackerel

3: Herring

4: Sardines

Some nuts and green vegetables also contain omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids in these foods may help to relieve the intestinal inflammation of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Aloe Vera is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Some people suffering from mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis who drink aloe vera juice have said they have reduced symptoms. However, people suffering from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis should be cautious about the aloe vera because it also has a laxative effect.

There are ten basic steps which can be taken to improve your quality of life with irritable bowel syndrome, reports EmaxHealth reporter, Denise Reynolds RD.

Inflammatory bowel disease is clearly a very distressing condition. I have observed how traditional treatments consistently fail to cure this illness as the patient's suffer daily. I therefore recommend that people suffering from Inflammatory bowel disease give serious consideration to using complementary approaches to treatment. Patients should look for physicians and naturopaths who are well oriented to using complementary medicine for this difficult condition.



Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are very different conditions: this article seems to use the terms as if they refer to the same thing--very misleading. There are also no specific research studies cited to back up claims. And I wouldn't recommend vitamin levels assuming deficiency before being tested to see if you are actually deficient. I have IBD and am all for complementary avenues, but only ones that have some merit. Otherwise I'm just wasting time and money.
Although IBS and IBD are intertwined in this article the point of it is there are options other than toxic drugs and painful surgery. I do hope that many will read this article and take one piece and explore as an option to bringing relief. I know that I have tried some on the list and it did not work however, most of them did work. I live Crohn's free because of taking a leap of faith on alternative and integrative medicine to learn about my body. Doing this was an incredible journey from pain, misery, suffering and many unnecessary surgeries to living life to it's fullest, full of energy and pain free. I now work as the Director of Nutrition Research and Education at an integrative medical facility that encompasses many of these modalities. Giving people hope and watching them feel better is the biggest reward! If you have Crohn's, colitis or IBS take one thing on this list and give it a try...you may be pleasantly surprised at the results. Only YOU can make the difference!