Herbal Medicines For Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative Colitis is a complicated disease. It presents different in each patient, though pain and inflammation of the bowel are hallmarks of the disease, and is treated accordingly. Some patients respond well to diet changes and stress reduction. Others need anti-inflammatory and pain control medications. Still with lifestyle changes and many of the most successful medications for ulcerative colitis, some patients still are suffering the painful and debilitating effects of this disease.
For these reasons, some patients are turning to and finding new hope in herbal medicines for inflammation relief with ulcerative colitis. Herbal medicine uses the leaves, stems, or fruit of plants to treat medical conditions. This practice is universal among most native populations and dates back to the beginning of time. In more recent years, several herbal preparations have been used with success for the treatment of pain and inflammation in patients with ulcerative colitis. It is estimated that approximately 10-12 percent of adults in the United States use some form of herbal medication or therapy, with as much as nearly 30 percent of adults using alternative therapies, including herbs, for chronic GI symptoms. (24)
Along with China and India, the Western world has begun to use complimentary medicine, such as herbs, to treat various forms of irritable bowel disease. In some areas, herbal medication is used along with traditional therapies for the treatment of ulcerative colitis pain and inflammation. Some studies show that the use of complementary medicine, as with herbs, combined with traditional Western medicine is superior to Western treatment modalities, such as prednisone, given alone.
As a tropical plant, Aloe Vera is popular throughout the globe. It has been used for centuries to help heal topical wounds. Its juice helps decrease inflammation and can be soothing. Although its exact action to help ulcerative colitis patients is unknown, it is thought to inhibit prostaglandin E2 and IL-8 secretion. Leading researchers and patients to believe that it has a role in antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory responses. Patients who took 100mL of oral aloe vera gel twice daily for four weeks were shown to have marked improvement and clinical remission.
The ayruvedic herb, Boswellia or Indian frankincense, has also been used for the treatment of patients with ulcerative colitis. Boswellic acid is thought to be the active ingredient in this herb. It is suspected that it inhibits 5-lipoxygenase selectively with anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects. Boswellia can directly inhibit intestinal motility and has been found to reduce edema that is chemically induced. It is also believed that it has cytotoxic properties.
Butyrate is used by intestinal epithelial cells for energy and homeostasis of the colon. Enemas of Butyrate have long been a popular herbal treatment choice. Some studies have shown topical use of Butyrate has help to decrease inflammation in the colon. Patients who took 4g of coated butyrate daily in combination with mesalazine improved their disease activity scores. (25)
Derived from the root of the plant, Licorice is a popular choice for many different ailments. It has immune modulatory and adaptogenic properties. Licorice contains active chemicals like glycyrrhizin which help with biologic activity. Diammonium glycyrrhizinate can be extracted from licorice and is useful to treat ulcerative colitis. This extract has proven to decrease intestinal mucosal inflammation.
Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva)
Slippery elm is made from powdered bark of the slippery elm tree. Native Americans use this herb to treat diarrhea and other GI ailments. This herb has anti-oxidant effects when used with patients who have inflammatory bowel disease. More research is being done to discover how slippery elm may help patients with ulcerative colitis.
Wheat Grass (Triticum aestivum)
The juice of wheat grass has been used by physicians and herbalists for the treatment of many GI conditions. In a double blind study, 78 percent of patients with ulcerative colitis saw clinical improvement with wheat grass juice over the course of one month, compared with only 30 percent in the placebo group. No series side effects were reported. Wheat grass juice has been proven to be safe and effective as a single or adjuvant treatment for active distal ulcerative colitis. (26)
Psyllium is derived from a shrub called Plantago ovata and is classified as a mucilaginous fiber as it has gel-forming properties with water. It has long been used as a laxative. As Psyllium travels through the digestive tract it absorbs water and then expands. A double blind trial revealed that ulcerative colitis patients had reduced symptoms, such as pain and bleeding, and remained in remission longer when they took 20g of ground psyllium seeds twice per day with water, compared with those on mesalazine alone. (27)
Currently there are many herbal medicines for pain relief on the market that can help patients living with ulcerative colitis. More research is being done to better develop and use these medications and discover more herbs that can potentially help these patients. Talk to your doctor or herbalist to find out if any of these herbs could help the treatment of your inflammation and pain caused by ulcerative colitis.