Complementary and Alternative Therapies for IBD

Is there a cure for IBD that I can find on the Internet?

No.

Why does the person at the local organic food store or nutrition supply shop tell me that herbal products will work for my IBD?

Diet supplements are a multi-billion dollar business in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not allowed to regulate their products as long as they do not make specific health claims. The people who work in these stores are sometimes paid extra when they sell supplements. They will often guide people to products that pay the highest rates, to add to their own pay. In contrast, your doctor does not receive money from drug companies for medicines you are prescribed.

Are supplements dangerous?

Food supplements are not monitored by the FDA and can be harmful. They can interact with your other medicines and increase your risk for severe side effects. Some supplements work because they have ingredients that are not listed on the label, such as steroids. These “secret ingredients” may have very harmful side effects. In the past very harmful heavy metals like mercury or lead have been found in health supplements. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking supplements and which ones you are taking.

Can probiotics help IBD?

Most probiotics have not been shown to work for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. VSL 3# is the only probiotic that has been shown to be of benefit for some people in order to prevent pouchitis after colectomy. Probiotics have been shown to be harmful in rare cases for people who are very sick. Talk to your doctor before starting a probiotic.

Can fish oil help IBD?

Fish oil, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, may be of some benefit at high doses for those with Crohn’s disease. It is not proven to be of help for ulcerative colitis. There are very few side effects, but it may be costly. It may be cheaper and safer to eat cold-water fish that are high in omega-3 (for example, salmon, mackerel, herring) 2 to 3 times a week than to pay for fish oil capsules.

Can aloe vera help IBD?

Aloe vera gel may be beneficial for those with ulcerative colitis. You have to be careful because aloe vera juice, which is more available in stores, has a laxative effect and is therefore a problem for people having diarrhea.  Aloe latex (may be called aloe juice) contains strong laxative compounds. At this time, aloe products are not regulated by the FDA so it is hard to tell if a product truly contains aloe vera gel or the laxative aloe latex.

Can bowel cleansing (high colonics or cleansing enemas) help IBD?

No. There is no evidence that purging the colon can help IBD and might actually cause a flare of symptoms.

Where can I get good information about alternative therapies for IBD?

The best source is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health. This is the web address: http://nccam.nih.gov/.