10 Ways to Help Manage IBD Without Drugs

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

If you spend any time at all watching TV, you know that commercials make it seem like the only way to deal with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is by popping a pill. But that’s not the whole story — in fact, IBD treatment is a lot more nuanced than that. Sometimes, in addition to medication, you need to use other therapies or techniques to manage your symptoms.

Read on to learn about some of the ways you can manage your IBD beyond drugs.

Woman Meditating In a Crowd At Sunset

Practice mindfulness

According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present moment. Mindfulness appears to improve mental health associated with IBD. Those who practice mindfulness tend to have an improved quality of life, reduced symptoms of depression, and better coping strategies. You can get started with these three mindfulness exercises.

Try a low-FODMAP diet

FODMAP is an acronym for the carbohydrates that feed on the naturally occurring bacteria found in your large bowel. The low-FODMAP diet involves eliminating foods that contain high amounts of these carbs for eight weeks. After eight weeks, you then slowly reintroduce these foods, one food group at a time. Here's a handy list of the foods to avoid on a low-FODMAP diet.

Senior Man using Smart Watch measuring heart rate

Incorporate cardiovascular exercise into your routine

Regular physical activity is good for all of us, but it has especially important benefits if you have IBD. Researchers have looked at the impacts of both walking and running if you have IBD, and both forms of exercise came out winners. Even walking just 30 minutes, at 60% of your effort, three times a week improved heart health, general well-being, quality of life, and perceived stress.

Woman at gym lifting weights

Get stronger

Resistance training, also known as strength training: It’s not just for body builders. Study after study show that resistance training is good for multiple conditions at almost every part of our life. If you have IBD, resistance training can improve your bone density, according to at least one study of participants with IBD who performed strength training at least two days a week for a year.

Woman at therapy session

Try cognitive behavioral therapy

Mental health issues can go hand in hand with IBD — for example, it can up your risk of depression and anxiety, per the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. If you’re struggling, it can be helpful to talk to someone outside of your family who understands what you are going through from a broader perspective. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a problem-solving approach between you and a therapist to help you challenge some of your thoughts that may not be helpful to your condition. In a 2018 study on non-drug therapies for IBD, people with IBD saw improvements in more positive thinking and these were maintained well beyond the therapy sessions.

Eat more fruits, veggies, and soluble fiber

According to Whitney Duff, Ph.D. the lead researcher on the 2018 study, diet is a key way to manage your IBD. “We know that IBD is linked to alterations in the microbiota living in our gut. As scientists begin to understand the links between the gut microbiota and health, we learn that diet is a key player,” she tells HealthCentral. “Fiber (including fruits and vegetables) is well studied and is known to support the growth of good bacteria. Many large studies demonstrate that those who consume a fiber-rich diet have a lower risk of developing IBD.”

Woman relaxing and listening to music

Manage your stress

If you are living with IBD, you may have more stress than others, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. While you can’t avoid stress completely — that’s life, unfortunately —you need to manage it because it can make your symptoms worse. Educating yourself on stress and coping techniques can positively impact your quality of life and IBD related stress. You may need to experiment with different methods of stress management such as breathing exercises, meditation, or listening to music to see what works best for you. Physical exercise has also been shown to reduce stress — so hit the gym with these tips to tone up with IBD.

Stop smoking

While the relationship between smoking and IBD is less than straightforward, we do know that the negative impacts of smoking far outweigh any benefits. Smoking can impact fertility and secondhand smoke may increase the risk of both Crohn’s disease and UC in children. If you are a smoker, there are ways to quit. Talking to your doctor is a great place to begin.

Woman taking vitamin supplement

Take vitamins and minerals

If you are living with IBD, you are at risk for micronutrient deficiencies such as calcium, vitamin D, B6, B9, iron, magnesium, and zinc. If you are not getting enough of these micronutrients, you may experience bone disease, cognitive decline, anemia, poor growth or other complications. Your doctor or dietitian can provide an assessment to let you know if you are deficient. You can go here for recommended vitamin and mineral replacement amounts.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.