Complementary Therapies for Ulcerative Colitis

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 20, 2020

When you have ulcerative colitis, you want to do whatever you can to keep it from flaring up. So you may be looking for anything that helps, in addition to the medicine and advice your doctor gives you.

Complementary, or integrative, medicine doesn't replace your usual treatments. These are therapies you might try along with your regular medical care. 

People in other parts of the world have used some of these methods, like acupuncture, for centuries. But they can be hard for researchers to study. So before you try anything, you should check with your doctor to make sure it won't cause problems with your main treatment or cause side effects.

Module: video
photo of woman walking
The Importance of Your Treatment PlanAs you start to feel better, the temptation to loosen the reins on your treatment plan may cross your mind. Here’s why you should stick with it.159


DOUGLAS WOLF: Well, there are

a variety of treatments

for ulcerative colitis

and they depend on the severity.

Many patients have

a difficult time following

their treatment regimen

because many of these regimens

are complicated.

The ultimate goal is to make

patients feel better.

So if they're having

an active symptom--

like pain-- for that pain

to go away or at least,

be diminished so it's not

bothering them.

And if they're having diarrhea,

then for the diarrhea

to be tolerable, but hopefully,

to go away.

So symptom control

is the main goal.

There are medications that can

work, but some of these regimens

require patients to take

their pills two, three, and even

four times a day.

And one of the regimens, it's

four pills four times

a day so it can be daunting.

The outcome of a patient

not being adherent or compliant

with their medicine

is that they're not going to do

as well.

They have more hospitalizations.

And higher use

of medical resources.

And greater need for surgery.

In the last 10 or 15 years,

there have been a host

of biologics that have been

approved for ulcerative colitis

and are preferable options

for most patients

if the simple pills don't work.

One of the advantages of some

of the infusion medicines

is that there's a nurse

monitoring the appointments.

And if patients don't come

for their appointments,

then they get a call

and a reminder.

But when we're talking about

a patient who might need--

let's say--

they're getting an infusion

every eight weeks

and they get it at 10 weeks

or they take it at 12 weeks,

then the medicine's not going

to work as well.

And they're more likely to be


and more likely to need surgery.

One of the benefits of staying

on treatment is that you'll

likely feel better

that the medicine is going

to work as expected.

There will be less missed


Less missed work.

Less missed events.

And a happier patient.

And we've done,

in the clinical trials,

that we measure quality of life.

And we've shown that patients

who are taking the medicine

on schedule, patients who are

getting these regiments

have better quality of life


So they're happier

and having more fulfillment

because their general health,

their well-being is not worsened

by the disease as much

as those who don't take

the medicine on time.

Douglas Wolf, MD<br> Director of IBD research, Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates/delivery/aws/c4/d0/c4d0f4b0-e7ff-3304-a710-559441e66705/funded-expert-feature-importance-of-staying-on-treatment_,4500k,2500k,1000k,750k,400k,.mp411/30/2018 12:00:00650350photo of woman walking/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/ulcerative_colitis_stay_on_treatment_plan_video/650x350_ulcerative_colitis_stay_on_treatment_plan_video.jpg091e9c5e81b538bf

Mind and Body Techniques

Stress doesn't cause ulcerative colitis. But it can worsen the symptoms and trigger flare-ups. There are several ways you can try to ease it.

Biofeedback. This is a system that teaches you how to control things like muscle tension and rapid heartbeat. At first, a machine helps you recognize what your body is doing. You learn how to quiet the symptoms of stress, and you eventually stop needing the machine.


Deep breathing. You inhale from all the way down, making your tummy expand and pull back in. That helps relax the body, particularly the muscles in your belly. That can be good for your intestines.

Exercise. Physical activity, even if it's mild, can make you feel better and release stress. But if you do too much or make your workout too hard, it might backfire. If you're not active now, ask your doctor what types of exercise would be good to try.

Hypnosis. Sessions with a trained hypnotherapist can help you deal with stress and anxiety. Early research suggests that hypnosis may help relieve the inflammation involved in ulcerative colitis.

Progressive muscle relaxation. You tighten and release various muscle groups, going one group at a time. It's simple to learn, and you can do it anywhere, anytime.

Yoga and meditation. These can help you let go of stress. If you don't have time for a yoga session, you might try even a few minutes of meditation. Just turn your attention to your breath, or to a word or thought that you find calming. Other thoughts will come up. Try to let those go. You might also want to try tai chi, a Chinese martial art known for its slow, meditative movements.

Acupuncture and Moxibustion

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that places needles in key “acupoints” to ease tension, pain, and other health problems. In moxibustion, practitioners warm and stimulate the same acupoints with burning dried mugwort (moxa) instead of needles. Some studies suggest that these practices can help symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, like belly pain, nausea, inflammation, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas.

But not all of the studies were exact in the way they collected information, and some studies showed no statistical difference between those who got the treatments and those who didn’t. Some evidence shows that acupuncture can help mood and mental health in people with ulcerative colitis, though more study is needed here as well.  


There isn't a lot of research that backs using supplements to help manage your ulcerative colitis. These may hold some promise, but the scientific evidence isn't complete, so check with your doctor first:

Aloe vera. It might help ease inflammation. But it could give you diarrhea.


Fish oil. This also might ease inflammation, and it may help in combination with prescription drugs from a group called aminosalicylates, though more studies are needed.

Psyllium. This comes from the ground seeds of the psyllium plant, and it supplies fiber. If you have diarrhea because of ulcerative colitis, it may help. But too much of it might cause irritation. For some people, fiber from flaxseed or oat bran may work better. Psyllium can interfere with some medications.

Turmeric. This spice contains a chemical called curcumin. When combined with standard treatments for UC, it may have some benefits, but more research is needed.


These are “good” bacteria that live in your digestive system and help it work. The research on whether they help your body handle ulcerative colitis isn't certain.

Some studies have found no benefit. But others showed that a particular probiotic called VSL #3 may do some good in addition to your regular medical treatment. There's also some research showing that a drink that includes fermented milk and another probiotic, bifidobacteria, may also help in addition to ordinary treatment.

Finally, if you're curious about going to a chiropractor to help with pain, ask your doctor what they think. It might be fine to try, but as usual, it's best to let your medical team know so they have a complete picture of your health.

WebMD Medical Reference



Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: “Review article: Complementary and alternative therapies for inflammatory bowel disease.”

Mayo Clinic: “Osteopathic medicine,” “Ulcerative colitis,” “Acupuncture,” “Diagnosis.”

The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association: “Osteopathic Primary Care of Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Review.”

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.

American College of Gastroenterology: “Ulcerative colitis.”

Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: “Worms and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology: “Exercise and inflammatory bowel disease.”

Crohn's and Colitis Foundation: “Acupuncture in Inflammatory Bowel Disease,” “Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Similarities and Differences.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Meditation: In Depth,” “Relaxation Techniques for Health.”

Gastroenterology and Hepatology: “Acupuncture in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

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