Naturopathic Medicine for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease

Colitis and Crohn’s disease are disorders characterized by inflammation of the digestive system. The main difference between the two diseases is that colitis (also known as ulcerative colitis) occurs only in the colon (the large intestine), while Crohn’s disease may occur in any part of the digestive system, anywhere from the mouth to the anus. Colitis and Crohn’s diseases are characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss and, less commonly, fever, loss of appetite, rectal bleeding, flatulence, and bloating. There is no cure for either colitis or Crohn’s disease. The conditions tend to appear and disappear for reasons that are not understood. Medical treatment involves relieving the symptoms of the disorders and attempting to extend the period of remission (inactivity) and reducing the time of relapse (activity). Naturopathic practitioners regard colitis and Crohn’s disease as indications of bodily imbalances that can best be treated by using a variety of natural methods to help the body use its own resources to heal itself.

How Is Naturopathic Medicine Used to Treat Colitis and Crohn’s Disease?

The first step in determining an appropriate naturopathic treatment for colitis or Crohn’s disease is an interview with the patient by a naturopathic doctor. That interview typically reveals conditions in the patient’s life that may have led to the development of one of these disorders. The naturopath will also conduct a physical examination that provides additional information about possible causes for the condition. The treatment designed for the patient may consist of a number of different but related approaches. First, inflammation of the digestive system may occur because of a poor or inappropriate diet, one that consists, for example, of too much sugar or starch, too many processed or synthetic foods, or an excess of saturated or trans fats. The obvious treatment in such cases is to exclude these foods from the diet. The ingestion of a number of other synthetic products may also cause inflammation of the digestive system: antacids; painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen; and some legal and illegal drugs. Again, treatment involves monitoring and reducing the use of these products.

Normal body function can also be restored by supplementing one’s diet with herbs and other products that strengthen the immune system, combat the free radicals that cause disease and aging, and otherwise support the body’s ability to heal itself. Some supplements that have been recommended include the herbs ginkgo (Ginkgo balboa) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) for their anti-inflammatory effects and the soothing effect they have on the digestive system; cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and angelica (Angelica atropurpurea; A. archangelica), because of their tendency to reduce muscular spasms and inflammation; and artemesia (Artemesia spp.), garlic, gentian (Gentiana lutea), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), and sanguinaria (Sanguinaria canadensis), for their antibiotic effects on harmful microorganisms present in the digestive tract.

A number of other vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements may also be recommended, including:

  • L-glutamine, an amino acid with the ability to heal the lining of the digestive tract
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which have a tendency to reduce inflammation of the digestive tract
  • Vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin D, for their role in repairing tissue damaged by colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • The minerals iron and zinc, because of similar properties
  • Vitamins C and E and minerals selenium and zinc, for their properties as antioxidants
  • Acidophilus, bifidus and sacchromyces boulardi bacterial supplements, since they restore “good” (naturally-occurring, supportive) bacteria to the digestive system

Naturopathic treatment of digestive disorders may also involve changes in lifestyle, such as stopping smoking and increasing one’s physical exercise. Improving one’s outlook on life and general mental health may also help strengthen normal body functions and help prevent the recurrence of colitis and Crohn’s disease.

What Is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic practitioners believe that the most effective way to treat specific medical problems, such as colitis and Crohn’s diseases, is by studying the patient’s body as a whole and looking for ways in which normal body functions have been disrupted. Treatments do not focus on the specific symptoms of the disease, then, but on efforts to help the body restore its complete, normal, and balanced functions. Dietary adjustments are fundamental to naturopathic treatments in they are designed to exclude substances that tend to be harmful to the body (sugars and certain types of fats, for example) and to include supplements that may be deficient in the body (such as vitamins, minerals, and natural substances that strengthen the immune system and fight disease-causing free radicals).

What Are Colitis and Crohn’s Disease?

Colitis and Crohn’s disease are two types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). These two conditions differ from each other primarily in the regions of the digestive system in which they occur. All types of IBD are characterized by inflammation of the mucosa (the inner lining) of the digestive system, resulting in the formation of ulcers in the walls of the lining. In the case of Crohn’s diseases, the inflammation may extend to deeper layers of the intestinal wall lining. Both forms of IBD tend to appear and disappear in unpredictable patterns. They tend to be very painful and uncomfortable, but are not, in and of themselves, life threatening. People with colitis or Crohn’s disease are at greater risk for colorectal cancer than the general population; but because of the regular testing they tend to undergo, their cancers are usually identified earlier, resulting in a higher rate of cure.

Additional Resources

Dahlman, David. Why Doesn't My Doctor Know This?: Conquering Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohn's Disease and Colitis. Garden City, NY: Morgan James Publishing, 2008. “Inflammatory Bowel Disease”.

Stengler, Mark. Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.

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