When you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) it can feel like your life is on hold. Debilitating pain, frequent trips to the bathroom, and extreme weakness makes getting through the day next to impossible. To make matters worse, your doctor may end up prescribing you steroids and immune-suppressing medications that don’t really help you get your life back and have a serious list of side effects.
I’m here to tell you it’s possible to alleviate symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis and it doesn’t always have to take dangerous medications. You can do so with a change in diet or by consuming healing nutraceuticals.. The change in diet is necessary to bring down the inflammation and support your microbiome. Herbal or vitamin therapy can be added to speed up the healing process and get you back on your feet more quickly.
When I cured my Crohn’s disease over 10 years ago, I did so through a complete diet overhaul and using herbal supplements to treat dysbiosis in the microbiome. Now, I want to share with you what you can do to find the same relief.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
The gut is the gatekeeper of our immune system, and therefore our health. When the gut is off balance due to microbial imbalance or other issues it can cause serious, even life-threatening conditions.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a term for chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, due in part to aggressive T-cell mediated cytokine response to certain gut bacteria. IBD is considered an umbrella term for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
In Crohn’s disease the macrophages of the immune system don’t recognize which bacteria is good or bad, and attacks the beneficial bacteria that live on your stomach lining. There are also specific microbes that have been identified in triggering Crohn’s – this is good news because it’s another step closer to clearer diagnostics. You can read more about that in my article: 3 Surprising Microbial Triggers of Crohn’s Disease.
With ulcerative colitis, inflammation occurs only in the distal colon and can cause ulcers. Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause painful symptoms, which include:
- Abdominal pain
- Cyclical fevers
- Extreme weakness
- Weight loss
- Bloody stool
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should make an appointment with a doctor who has experience in IBD. Though it’s rare, in some cases IBD can be dangerous and the earlier you catch it the easier it will be to treat it. Some patients disease gets so severe they have to have parts of the colon removed.
The IBD Diet
If you’ve been diagnosed with IBD, changing your diet should be the first course of action you take. By avoiding foods that cause intestinal inflammation you can reduce painful symptoms. You should also add foods that reduce inflammation to help further soothe your condition. Though it doesn’t help to do just one or the other, you need to both avoid harmful foods, add supporting foods, and also use herbal supplements.
When it comes to eating with IBD I’ve found that either the SCD or the Elemental diet work best. For patients who are in serious pain, I usually recommend the Elemental diet. For those who need a more long term management solution, I find the SCD works best.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is powerful and capable in making changes in the gut microbiota diet in as little as two weeks. Through eliminating grains, sugars, starches, and unprocessed foods, you control what your gut microbiota has access to, which starves the harmful bacteria. The SCD is considered a gut reboot and can help those even with more mild gut conditions. With IBD, the SCD has been shown to positively influence the predominant Firmicutes and Bacteroides bacterium.
Food you can have on SCD include:
- Grass-fed beef
- Lactose-free dairy
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Ripe fruit
Foods you’ll want to avoid include:
- Starchy vegetables
- Some beans
- Artificial sweeteners
The Elemental diet is a strict diet that starves the bacteria through meal replacements. The Elemental diet is very effective with IBD but isn’t a diet someone can maintain permanently because the meal replacements are powdered nutrient drinks, which lack sufficient nutrients. That being said, the Elemental diet will significantly reduce the harmful bacteria and inflammation. The Elemental diet meal replacements can be Physicians’ Elemental Diet by Integrative Therapeutics or Vivonex by Nestle.
When you’re suffering from IBD eating can feel unbearable but changing the makeup of your microbiota through your diet is key to finding relief in remission.
Herbal therapy for IBD
Herbal therapy can help the process of healing go more smoothly and more quickly. Supplements that work best are therapeutic through antioxidant activity, immune regulation, and their anti-inflammatory effects.
A 2015 report on herbal therapy in patients with IBD found that certain herbal remedies were specifically beneficial to Crohn’s disease, such as:
- Mastic gum – Well known for its positive effect on the gut, mastic gum has been used medicinally since ancient times.
- Tripterygium wilfordii – Sometimes called, ‘thunder god vine,’ this effective herb has been used to fight inflammation and autoimmune disease, making it an excellent fit for IBD.
- Artemisia absinthium – Also known as, ‘wormwood’ or ‘absinthe,’ in the readily available form won’t cause hallucinations.
- Berberine – also has anti-inflammatory activity in colitis.
Herbal supplements that are effective in ulcerative colitis, include:
- Aloe vera gel – Though most think of this as a topical treatment, eating aloe vera is great for the soothing the gut, especially in IBD patients.
- Triticum aestivum – Also known as ‘wheat grass juice,’ research has found this to be an effective treatment for IBD.
- Andrographis paniculata extract – This herb is powerful against IBD and other conditions such as malaria and parasites.
- Topical Xilei-san – Studies have found topical Xilei san to be significant and safe in treating ulcerative colitis.
These herbal therapies were not only effective in soothing symptoms, they actually helped put the condition into remission. In the case of the Crohn’s disease, those herbal therapies were found to be effective through inhibition of leukotriene B4 and nuclear factor- kappa B.
Though it’s not an herb, I want to mention vitamin D supplementation because low levels have been linked to a higher risk of IBD. Studies repeatedly find low vitamin D levels in patients with IBD and it’s been considered a risk factor for Crohn’s disease since the 1980’s. Make sure you’re getting enough sun and taking 5,000 IU of a vitamin D3 supplement with vitamin K2.
And of course don’t forget probiotics!
Probiotics are essential to any gut healing protocol, but with IBD there are specific factors that make certain probiotics especially helpful. VSL#3 is one of my main recommendations for anyone with IBD because it is very potent and carries the most beneficial strains. One study found that patients who took VSL#3 probiotics for six weeks had a remission/response rate of 77 percent. Other probiotics recommendations I make to those with IBD include:
- High dose multistrain
- Probiotic E. coli strain Nissle 1917
- Lactobacillus GG
- Spore-forming probiotics
- Saccharomyces Boulardii
Environmental triggers of IBD
Environmental triggers are another consideration you should take seriously to get your IBD under control. The following are known triggers of IBD:
You Can Cure Your IBD
The good news about inflammatory bowel disease is that you can reverse the illness with the right diet and lifestyle changes. If I can do it, you can do it. Take each step a one at a time, and before you know it you’ll have your condition under control.
I know what it feels like to struggle with IBD, which is why I’ll continue supplying you with helpful information like this – so you can get your life back.
If you want to read more, check out my other article on microbial triggers to IBD.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.
Hi Dr. Jill,
Hmmm….would some of the same treatments work for microscopic colitis??
Hi Chris, yes many of these interventions will help heal both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Often microscopic colitis is caused by in infection or inflammatory process so still best to test and treat the root cause
While testing to find root causes (as advised above) and tailoring treatment based on findings (in this case for Collagenous Colitis), would you allow patients to take Budesonide concurrently (and then taper off)? A naturopath has suggested this to me and I’m wondering if there’s a down side.
Can you please recommend a dieet for a 5year old that works for inflammatory bowel disease (UC)?
Thank you so much.
I recommend the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.
If you have amalgams in your mouth, then this will be the root cause of your stomach problems. Remove, the amalgams, and your intestinal problems will go away.
Like Chris I have collagenous Colitis. No one knows anything about it so those of us suffering with it have to be our own doctors. Even the doctors are totally ignorant and treat this as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.
I had my amalgams removed several years back with no change in the colitis. I have been on an elemental diet for an extended. Of time at least twice with no change. I have gone on the various diets out there for IBD with no change. Presently I have been on the autoimmune protocol diet for 3 months with no change.
In desperation I also tried the meds. Some helped temporarily, some not at all. The cost itself is enough to kill you. The last prescription what’s $3,000 a month not covered by insurance.
Do be careful when telling people what will fix their ” stomach problems”. I’m certain you mean well but those of us dealing with this somewhat rare colitis find no relief apart from death.
What about hair loss would it cause this ??
malnutrition may cause hair loss
Hi i am suffering ibd from 6 yrs,solution eat whatever you want but whenever you eat drink water after eating 1 hour, it will help you to digest food and it will make boost your digestive function,i do the same i do found result,need to make habit to your stomach have hope. It meat once a day,high protein food once a day and dont drink alcohol
I have not yet started my steroids and not planning to do it either. Do you think I can keep the disease at bay through lifestyle changes, yoga and exercise?
You will need to consult with a functional medicine doctor to do further testing and find root inflammatory triggers and infections
Thanks for the great article. While “testing to find root inflammatory triggers and infections” (in this case for Collagenous Colitis) and then going about with targeted treatments (per article), would you allow patients to take Budesonide concurrently (and then taper off)? This has been recommended by a naturopathic doc, and I am curious about your take. Is there a down side here?
yes, Chris, I do work with many patients on steroids and biological agents
Confused…saccharine is okay but artificial sweeteners are not okay?
I do not recommend artificial sweeteners
I have Collagenous Colitis, diagnosed by biopsy. I was very strictly on the SCD diet for six years. Despite some bit of improvement, it did little to help my condition, sadly. I lost weight, and some of the more ‘explosive’ symptoms improved, but I finally had to admit that it would not help me more than that little bit of improvement. I think some of the SCD diet was not good for my condition ( fiber especially, as well as seeds, and raw vegetables). Sigh. I think no ‘one ‘diet is the answer. Maybe the problem is all of the additives in our food ( including hormones and antibiotics in meats, and all that spraying of our vegetables and fruits etc). I’m starting to think we are just poisoned; and some of us are reacting more obviously than others. And we can’t get away from it.( Thank you indeed to that raging unchecked Capitalism that means corporate profits are paramount regardless of the harm to people or our planet. )
Hi Dr Jill,
Thank you for this information. You have summarized a lot of what I have read over the past 5 years. Do you have access to Xilei-san for your patients?
No, I do not
I’m 27 and I have Crohn’s. Some of the things I’ve found that help the most:
Citrucel fiber therapy,
And intermittent fasting.
I used to bleed every BM , now I barely ever bleed at all.
Thank you for providing essential information for those who suffer from IBD. I have UC and have successfully treated it with the very things you recommend. It took several years of reading, researching and praying before I found a healthy balance in my diet along with the probiotics and supplements to finally experience remission. (10 months in remission so far!). I only wish I had found your blog years ago!
My question is this: How often do I need a colonoscopy? The specialist at Northwestern in Chicago is very sceptical that I am in remission. He thinks I have only “blanketed” the symptoms temporarily and wants me to have another colonoscopy to prove that I am wrong. (My first colonoscopy was the one where I was diagnosed 3 years ago.). Is there a chance that the test will cause a renewed flareup? How often should I be tested if I am feeling good and with no symptoms?
I suggest you follow doctor’s instructions and get a colonoscopy every 3 years
Hi Dr Jill
I have been diagnosed recently and prescribed Budanofalk and Azhathaprine and I took them for 2 weeks and has given me side effects 1. mouth ulzer 2. constipation. Now I stoped for 3 days but the IBD nurse told me to take Budanofalk. I am starting to think ‘ medications are the killer’
Shall I stop taking mediaction and find the herbal and diet way to calm the IBD
best to discuss plan with your doctor
Good Morning Dr. Jill
I have had Ulcerative Colitis for 8 years. I was diagnosed when I was 20 and have taken every medication under the sun. I had remission on Humira for 3 years and recently built up antibodies against the medication. I am currently taking prednisone to calm a 4 month flare while I am trying to get coverage for Xeljanz.
At this point I am extremely frustrated and I am sick of being on immunemodulator therapy. I am a 4th year medical student in DO school and I am reaching out for help. I want to get healthy before residency and I would love to discuss holistic options for you and hopefully find a way to battle this disease without messing with my immune system. I would like to find out possible triggers that I can stay away from or anything that will help.
I see you are located in Colorado and I am currently based out of Buffalo New York. Please let me know your thoughts.
Thanks for listing to avoid gluten and dairy when suffering from because it can complicate the problem. My friend’s wife has been suffering from chronic inflammation for the past few weeks now. I will pass them the info so they can consider visiting a gastroenterologist for treatment.
Thank you for this information. It’s rare to find something so detailed.
1. For a UC patient undergoing a flare-up, which VSL#3 probiotic should I take? (e.g. how many billions of bacteria?)
2. For a UC patient undergoing a flare-up, how much time should you be in the elemental diet?
3. Do you have any more details about the herbal diet?
1) I recommend using Probiomax 100 billion
2) For Elemental Diet, I recommend 2-4 weeks for treatment
3) Alison Siebecker’s home-aid SIBO diet works well, too.
Rating great visual appeal on this web site, I’d rate it 10 10.
Hi, what do you recommend for curing stricturing ileitis and intestinal fibrosis as a result of Chron’s Disease? Happy for suggestions on this!
This is complex as you may need visceral physical therapy or surgery. Supplements are less likely to help if there is physical strictures or inflammation