By: Mike Scalese, Pharmacist, Vivante Health
Natural remedies addressing a variety of ailments have been around for thousands of years. However, their role in today’s medical treatment is not always clear, especially in chronic conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). One category of natural treatments, herbal supplements, are naturally occurring substances that come from roots, flowers, seeds, or other parts of plants and fungi. You can get them over the counter and do not need a prescription, but they do not undergo the same testing and verification as prescription medications and are less regulated. Still, they may be beneficial in the management of inflammation and other symptoms of IBD. Before exploring the potentially beneficial herbal supplements, here are a few words of wisdom to keep in mind:
There is no “miracle cure” for IBD using herbal substances
Medications used to treat IBD can help manage your symptoms but will not completely cure your condition. The same is true for herbal supplements. They can be a great ADDITION to therapy but will not cure your IBD. Be cautious of advertisements or stories about herbal substances that suggest otherwise.
Herbal supplements are NOT to replace your prescription medications
While they have the potential to help improve the symptoms of your IBD, herbal supplements are just that….supplements…..to your medication regimen. There is limited evidence for their benefits when used alone to manage IBD symptoms. Replacing your medications with herbal supplements could worsen your condition and result in negative consequences. (Think disease flares that require steroids, antibiotics, or even a stay in the hospital.)
Always tell your doctor what herbal supplements you’re taking
Although readily available over the counter, it is very important that your healthcare team knows what herbal substances you’re taking. Many herbals substances have the potential to interact with your prescription drugs. This means that using certain herbal substances in combination with your prescription might reduce the benefit of your medication. In some cases herbals can also worsen side effects! Give your healthcare team a list of any herbal supplements you’re taking will so they can navigate any potential drug interactions and optimize your treatment plan.
Before starting any herbal supplements, speak with your doctor or pharmacist
Whether it’s helping you pick the right supplement or making sure the dose and dosage form (liquid, capsule, etc) are the best possible choice for you, your pharmacist and providers are a wealth of information! (If you’re a Vivante Health member, reach out to your Care Team to get the conversation about herbal supplements started.)
Choices Choices Choices
When it comes to choosing an herbal supplement, varying information can make it difficult to find the right one. Some herbals have shown benefit while others appear to be more like old wives’ tales. So, how do you figure out which ones to use? Again, talk to your healthcare team. To get you started, though, the list below highlights a few of the most promising herbal supplements in the management of IBD symptoms, based on research:
Turmeric, also sometimes referred to as curcumin, is a plant related to ginger. It has a very distinct yellow appearance and is available over the counter as a powder or capsule. It has been shown to have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties which are both beneficial in IBD. A few studies have shown its ability to reduce IBD symptoms, especially in people who did not have success with mesalamine.
Try saying that five times fast! It may be a tongue twister, but it is one herbal supplement with more available information than most others. The supplement is derived from the Boswellia family of trees and is also commonly referred to as frankincense. It is available over the counter as an essential oil, resin, or capsule, all taken orally. Some small studies have shown boswellia to have anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to reduce symptoms in some patients with IBD.
Wait, marshmallow? Yes marshmallow! Unfortunately, I’m not talking about the delicious fluffy topping for your hot chocolate. The marshmallow plant, specifically the root, is available in powder form for mixing and powder- or liquid-filled capsules. While there is not a lot of information available, one study showed an improvement of inflammation which could be helpful to reduce symptoms of IBD. Based on the information currently out there, marshmallow does not appear to cause many side effects BUT could interact with some of medications.
Most commonly, aloe vera is used topically to relieve the burning pain associated with spending too much time in the sun! The pain relieving effects stem from the anti-inflammatory properties of the plants’ leaves. These properties may also help relieve symptoms associated with IBD when taken orally. Some over-the-counter preparations are available in an oral liquid or gel. It is very important to remember to only ingest the product that are meant to be taken orally. DO NOT swallow sunburn gel; it may be harmful!
For more information about herbal supplements and how they might fit into your treatment plan reach out to your Vivante Care Team. We’re here for our members 24/7/365.