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Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Alternatives Plus Conventional Drugs May Offer Benefits

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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic immune disorder that is divided into two major categories, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Standard treatment includes anti-inflammatory drugs.

Curcumin, found naturally in turmeric spice, has also been reported to have significant anti-inflammatory properties. Dr. Rebecca A. Taylor and Dr. Mandy C. Leonard of the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, provided a review of the use of curcumin in treating IBD.

A pilot study explored the effects of adding curcumin to standard drug therapy with corticosteroids, sulfasalazine, or mesalamine (5-aminosalicylic acid) for five patients with ulcerative colitis and five with Crohn's disease.

All patients improved within two months. In the ulcerative colitis group, all patients improved enough to reduce their use of drugs.

A larger study compared curcumin to placebo in a double-blind study of 89 patients. All received standard drug therapy in addition to the dose of either curcumin or placebo.

The curcumin dose was 1,000 mg after breakfast and 1,000 mg after dinner. Patients in the curcumin group had significantly better results in terms of symptoms, lab tests, and endoscopic evaluation.

“To date, no studies in animals or humans have discovered significant toxicity related to curcumin, even at very high doses,” Taylor and Leonard reported. However, they offered one warning.

“Patients with gallstones or bile duct obstructions should use curcumin with caution, primarily due to curcumin's ability to cause gallbladder contractions.”

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a division of the National Institutes of Health, provides more information on Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Crohn's disease causes inflammation of any part of the gastrointestinal tract. The end section of the small intestine, called the ileum, is most often affected. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine.

With Crohn's disease, chronic inflammation may cause scar tissue that slows down the movement of food and stool through the digestive system, producing pain, cramps, and diarrhea. The inflammation of Crohn's disease can be deeper in the intestinal walls than that of ulcerative colitis.

In addition, Crohn's patients may experience inflammation of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Bulky grains, hot spices, alcohol, and milk products may increase symptoms for some patients.

Ulcerative colitis has symptoms similar to Crohn's disease, and can be difficult to diagnose. The treatment for both diseases is similar, including medications to reduce inflammation. The recommended diet for ulcerative colitis includes bland food, small meals consumed more often, and limitations on high-fiber foods and carbonated drinks.

Surgery may be an option for patients who do not respond to lifestyle changes and drugs.


Taylor RA et al, “Curcumin for inflammatory bowel disease: A review of human studies”, Altern Med Rev 2011; 16(2): 152-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21649456

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Crohn's Disease. Web. Feb. 28, 2012.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Ulcerative Colitis. Web. Feb. 28, 2012.

Reviewed March 7, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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