9 Natural Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis

by Erin L. Boyle Health Writer

So you’re receiving treatment for your ulcerative colitis (UC)—but you’re wondering if you can do anything else to stay in remission, avoid flares, and feel your best. That’s natural, says gastroenterologist Pradeep Kumar, M.D., a partner at Austin Gastroenterology and clinical professor at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas in Austin. “Patients want to have a role in their therapy and they want to consider a whole-body total approach to their disorder rather than just medications,” he says. Here are some possibilities that just might assist.

Cannabis and UC: Can It Help?

Many complementary approaches to UC treatment (meaning they don’t replace your current treatment, but add to it) have been studied to determine their safety and effectiveness. In a 2021 study, investigators looked at 32 UC patients who inhaled cannabis with THC (the chemical responsible for marijuana’s high) or a placebo for eight weeks. Those who received THC reported feeling better and had an improved quality of life—but there was no improvement in inflammatory markers for the disease. Also, the study was small with limited follow-up, Dr. Kumar says.

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Is CBD Oil Useful in UC?

Also a compound found in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) doesn’t cause a high like THC but has been studied extensively for therapeutic benefits. A big goal in UC treatment is clinical remission, Dr. Kumar points out. “CBD has been shown to be mildly beneficial, but it has not been shown to maintain remission or induce remission,” he says. The compound has been studied more in Crohn’s, another inflammatory bowel disease, but the jury is still out on its effectiveness for UC.

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411 on Herbal Remedies

There’s research to suggest that some herbs may help with UC, like a study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences that found curcumin (a compound in the spice turmeric) decreased inflammation in people with inflammatory bowel disease, in part by increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines. You can use it to season your food or take it in capsule form. Always check with your doctor before trying a herbal remedy.

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Can Vitamins Impact UC?

Short answer: Yes. A recent study in the Indian Journal of Gastroenterology found that people with UC are likely to be deficient in vitamin D—and that deficiency can lead to more severe symptoms and pancolitis in UC patients. But it’s more than vitamin D: “Patients with active inflammatory bowel disease can be deficient in a number of vitamins, nutrients, and micronutrients,” says David M. Poppers, M.D., Ph.D., a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health in New York. Talk to your doctor about having your levels checked so you can supplement as needed.

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Probiotics for UC

A 2019 study found that taking probiotics improved quality of life in UC patients, reducing bathroom visits and firming up bowel movements. Why? They may help by adding “good” bacteria to the gut as well as modifying the body’s overreaction to existing bacteria—a common issue in people with UC. “The dilemma is that since they are regulated as supplements, they need absolutely no data to get on the market,” says Dr. Kumar. “It’s caveat emptor, buyer beware.” He recommends the probiotic VSL#3, which you can find online.

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How Food Affects UC

“Diet is really important,” says Dr. Poppers. Red meat and alcoholic beverages are two variables associated with an increased likelihood of relapse for UC patients, according to a study in Nutrition and Metabolic Insights. While there is no specific “UC diet,” you can track symptoms in a diary to determine your own food triggers. Dr. Poppers also recommends seeing a nutritionist who can help you learn more about better-tolerated versus less-tolerated IBD foods.

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Is Exercise Effective for UC?

We get it, it’s tough to be physical when you have IBD. Research shows that those with IBD are significantly less physically active after their diagnosis, especially those with UC. “That’s most likely due to people not feeling well enough to engage in this activity,” Dr. Poppers says. But it’s crucial, in part due to potential decreased bone density associated with IBD. Weight-bearing exercise, like regular walks or jogs, can slow or reverse this trend. Aim for 30 minutes, five times a week.

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Should You Meditate?

You might not associate mindfulness-based interventions with natural remedies, but they can lead to a better quality of life and less anxiety or depression, according to a meta-analysis looking at mindfulness and IBD in Gastroenterology Clinics of North America. The goal of UC care is “multi-dimensional, multi-modal and multi-disciplinary,” Dr. Poppers says, meaning the more tools you have—from yoga to meditation to medication—the better your odds of managing your condition.

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The Deal With Therapy and UC

It’s more than just talking: Psychological therapies show good efficacy in reducing IBS symptom severity, according to a study in Psychology Research and Behavior Management. More specifically, “cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been well-known for functional bowel disease for a long time,” Dr. Poppers says. In the study, CBT was been tested rigorously in multiple randomized controlled trials and consistently demonstrated significant and durable effects on IBS symptoms and quality of life.

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What to Know About Sleep

Finally, sleep management is critical for handling your UC, Dr. Kumar says. Sleep and the immune system have a unique interaction, and sleep deprivation can induce inflammatory cytokine production. On the flip side, good quality sleep for IBD patients is correlated with better moods and quality of life, a 2020 study found. So if you do one thing for your UC today (along with using CBD oil and adding turmeric to your meal), try heading to bed a little early, Your body will thank you.

  • Cannabis and UC: PLoS One. (February 11, 2021.) “Cannabis Is Associated with Clinical but not Endoscopic Remission in Ulcerative Colitis: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33571293/

  • CBD and IBD: Gastroenterology & Hepatology. (October 2018.) “Use of Medical Cannabis in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366240/

  • Herbal Remedies: Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. (May 22, 2019.) “Phytotherapies in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6540767/

  • Vitamin Supplementation: Indian Journal of Gastroenterology. (March 13, 2019.) “Vitamin D Deficiency in Adult Patients with Ulcerative Colitis: Prevalence and Relationship With Disease Severity, Extent, and Duration.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30864011/

  • Probiotics: PharmaNutrition. (March 2019.) “Probiotics for Improving Quality of Life in Ulcerative Colitis: Exploring the Patient Perspective.” sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213434418301075

  • Meat, Alcohol and UC: Nutrition and Metabolic Insights. (2019.) “The Synergistic Role of Diet and Exercise in the Prevention, Pathogenesis, and Management of Ulcerative Colitis: An Underlying Metabolic Mechanism.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6425530

  • Keeping a Food Diary: Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. (October 2014.) “Diet and Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Review of Patient-Targeted Recommendations.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4021001/

  • Exercising Less with IBD, UC: Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis. (May 2, 2019.) “Inflammatory Bowel Disease [IBD] and Physical Activity: A Study on the Impact of Diagnosis on the Level of Exercise Amongst Patients With IBD.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5743119/

  • Mindfulness Practices: Gastroenterology Clinics of North America. (2017.) “Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29173527/

  • CBT: Psychology Research and Behavior Management. (2017.) “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Current Insights.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5530860/

  • Good Sleep Quality: Scientific Reports. (January 16, 2020.) “Sleep Disturbance in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Prevalence and Risk fFactors – A Cross-Sectional Study.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6965196/

Erin L. Boyle
Meet Our Writer
Erin L. Boyle

Erin L. Boyle, the senior editor at HealthCentral from 2016-2018, is an award-winning freelance medical writer and editor with more than 15 years’ experience. She’s traveled the world for a decade to bring the latest in medical research to doctors. Health writing is also personal for her: she has several autoimmune diseases and migraines with aura, which she writes about for HealthCentral. Learn more about her at erinlynnboyle.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinLBoyle.