Ayurvedic Herbs for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are considered inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Symptoms caused by inflammation of the digestive tract can be quite painful and debilitating, including fatigue, fever, and bloody diarrhea. IBD can also lead to arthritis, gallstones, and increased risk of bowel and colon cancer. Ulcerative colitis can also cause constipation, weight loss, anemia, and possibly even fatal perforation of the colon. Conventional treatment include the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine, corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone), and immunosuppressive drugs to alleviate symptoms from flare-ups and attempt to induce remission.64-65

  • Frankincense (Boswellia serrata). Traditionally used in Ayurvedic natural medicine to treat a number of inflammatory conditions, has shown some promise as an alternative remedy for Crohn’s disease. In an 8-week study that was both double-blinded and placebo-controlled, those IBD patients who took a standardized supplement of frankincense responded as well as those who took the pharmaceutical drug mesalazine. 64
  • Standardized boswellia extract (37.5% boswellic acids) has been used in clinical studies with no serious side effects. However, experts caution that the herbs safety for children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with liver or kidney disease has not been established. 27

  • Aloe (Aloe vera and barbadensis). Called kumari in the original Sanskrit language of Ayurveda, this succulent plant is found throughout the world. It is considered a bitter astringent herb that has anti-inflammatory properties and decreases both pitta and kapha doshas while increasing vata. 1,37
  • Results of a small, 4-week clinical trial involving 44 participants with active ulcerative colitis suggest that oral intake of aloe gel may help alleviate the symptoms of this disabling condition and could even lead to full remission. Half of those in the non-placebo group responded to the aloe treatment. Thirty percent of the aloe group went into remission, compared to insignificant positive outcomes in the placebo group. 37

  • Turmeric. Described as haridra, varna, and nisa in Sanskrit, the fresh and dried bright yellow-orange tuberous roots of turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been and continues to be a common herb in Ayurvedic household remedies. A multi-purpose herb that also serves as a culinary spice and cosmetic, turmeric’s traditional uses include topical pastes for sprains, insect bites, and inflammatory skin conditions (e.g., acne and psoriasis) as well as taken internally for abdominal pain, gout, arthritis, asthma, and Crohn’s disease. 1
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Curcumin, a potent bioactive chemical in turmeric, has proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which may explain turmeric’s effectiveness in traditional medicine. It was studied in a 6-month clinical trial involving 89 patients with ulcerative colitis that was in remission. Flare-ups of IBS symptoms occurred in far fewer of those participants who took the curcumin supplement (one gram twice a day) than in those who were given the placebo. 43

Greatly increased risk with ulcerative colitis.
The different Sanskrit names were used as descriptors of the herbs usefulness. Haridra refers to its yellow
coloring, varna for its skin benefits, and nisa to distinguish it as an herb best harvested at night.
 
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