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Alternative Treatments for Colitis

Alternative Treatments for Colitis Alternative Treatments for Colitis

Colitis is an inflammation of the colon, or large intestine, that can have different causes, including infection, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Symptoms may include fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and bloody stools. Conventional medications attempt to reduce inflammation, control diarrhea and fight infection, but they do not always work and may have unpleasant side effects. Herbs may be an effective alternative treatment for some forms of colitis. But before starting any herbal treatment, consult your health-care professional.


Yarrow, or Achillea millefolium, is a perennial herb with feathery leaves and clusters of tiny white flowers. Legends of yarrow go back to Greek warrior Achilles, who used it to heal his soldiers' wounds, and to the Chinese philospher Confucius. Yarrow contains volatile oils, flavonoids, tannins and alkaloids. Traditional healers used yarrow to treat a range of disorders, including wounds, gastrointestinal diseases, inflammation, high-blood pressure and fevers. A study published in the September 2007 issue of the "Journal of Ethnopharmacology" tested extracts of yarrow and its constituents in vitro. The study found that all extracts had potent inhibitory actions against proteases, which are enzymes involved in inflammatory conditions such as colitis. This study supports the traditional use of yarrow for inflammatory disorders. Further studies are needed to understand the mechanism of action and the efficacy of yarrow on colitis in humans.

Ayurvedic Formula

Ayurveda is India's traditional herb-based medical system that, like traditional Chinese medicine, often uses multiple herbs in a formula to treat disease. An ancient formula for gastrointestinal disorders contains bilwa, or Aegle marmelos; dhanyak, or Coriandrum sativum; musta, or Cyperus rotundus; and vala, or Vetiveria zizanioides. Ayurvedic medicine also uses the fruits, rhizomes and roots of these plants individually to treat diarrhea and digestive disorders, but there was no scientific proof that they worked in combination for colitis. A study reported in the February 2004 issue of the "Journal of Ethnopharmacology" addressed this issue and tested the formula on animals with two different forms of induced colitis. The study found that the formula was effective in both cases of colitis, likely because of its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial actions. This study validates the traditional use of this formula for treating gastrointestinal diseases. But further studies are needed to test these results on human subjects.

Slippery Elm

Slippery elm, or Ulmus rubra, is a deciduous tree found throughout eastern North America. The inner bark contains a thick, gelatinous substance called mucilage, which protects mucus membranes from irritants and soothes them when they become inflamed. The bark has been used traditionally to treat irritated mucus membranes in the throat, stomach and intestines. A study published in the February 2002 issue of "Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics" tested six herbs for their anti-oxidant effects on biopsy material from patients with ulcerative colitis. Anti-oxidants reduce inflammation by neutralizing free radicals and blocking proteins that cause inflammation. The study found that slippery elm had potent anti-oxidant properties that may account for its anti-inflammatory action on colitis. Further studies are needed to determine the active chemical constituents and test these results on humans.

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