If you’re living with Crohn’s disease, medication is usually the go-to treatment for this inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). But using natural remedies might also help your flare-up symptoms.
Curious about using alternative medicine and other natural treatments? Here’s what science has to say about the most common natural remedies for Crohn’s disease.
Natural remedies for Crohn’s disease
There’s still no cure for Crohn’s (yet!). But these natural remedies and tips might help ward off or soothe symptoms of a flare-up:
- Avoiding triggers
- Low fiber diet
- Mindfulness and stress relief
- Fish oil
- Thunder god vine
- Aloe vera
- Apple cider vinegar
- Essential oils
1. Steer clear of triggers
It’s no secret that certain things are more likely to trigger a Crohn’s attack. That doesn’t mean your condition is your fault, BTW. But it *does* mean you can often help ease symptoms with a few lifestyle tweaks.
When possible, steer clear of these known triggers:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen
- cigarette smoking
- stress (easier said than done, we know!)
2. Be kind to your GI with your diet choices
When you’re living with Crohn’s, food can feel more like a foe than a friend. But good ol’ Hippocrates was onto something when he said “Let food be thy medicine.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all Crohn’s disease diet, but experts offer these tips for going easy on your gut:
- Eat 4–6 small daily meals instead of overloading your GI with 2–3 feasts.
- Drink lots of water during and between meals.
- Keep food prep simple and light (aka, grill your fish instead of frying it).
- Dial down your consumption of caffeine, alcohol, lactose, and spices.
- Go easy on the fiber when you’re experiencing a Crohn’s flare.
3. Tune in and chill out
Have you ever noticed how easily mental stress can lead to a headache or upset stomach? The mind-body connection is real, y’all.
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation suggests that mind-body therapies can help folks living with Crohn’s disease. A few ideas:
4. Try probiotics
Crohn’s disease can mess up the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. And when the bad bacteria take over, you can experience everything from bloating and diarrhea to painful constipation.
Since a balanced gut is so critical to proper digestion, some folks with Crohn’s take probiotic supplements or nosh on probiotic-rich foods like:
More research is needed to prove the benefits of probiotic intake for Crohn’s, but some evidence suggests that probiotics help folks feel better in the early stages of the disease.
5. Or prebiotics
Prebiotics help probiotics thrive. So incorporating more prebiotics into your diet is like offering backup to the good gut bacteria.
One tiny, 3-week study of folks with Crohn’s found that ingesting 15 grams of oligofructose and inulin (2 prebiotics) each day led to a significant reduction in disease symptoms. More research is needed, but this small study seems promising.
You can boost your intake with these prebiotic-rich foods:
- whole grains
- Jerusalem artichokes
Just make sure you talk to your doctor before adding any probiotic *or* prebiotic supplements to your diet.
6. Snag some fish oil
Fish oil is brimming with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. That’s why experts frequently recommend it for folks with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s.
Research from 2014 (throwback to Disney’s OG “Frozen”!) suggested that fish oil could help reduce symptoms of Crohn’s. A 2019 research review also suggested omega fatty acids for soothing IBD — but the researchers concluded that more research is necessary to pinpoint the best dose and delivery.
As with any supplement, it’s best to check with your doc before popping fish oil capsules. Plus, fish oil can interfere with some prescription meds.
7. Give curcumin a try
Curcumin gives the spice turmeric its anti-inflammatory powers. Since Crohn’s is an inflammatory condition, some folks take curcumin to help soothe their angry intestines.
A 2019 research review concluded that curcumin *may* play a future role in dialing down GI inflammation. The researchers ultimately said more studies are needed.
In 2020, a study of Crohn’s patients in Japan found that taking 360 milligrams a day for 12 weeks led to significant healing of anal lesions. That’s a #win for anyone living with IBD.
Science is still unclear on exactly how and how much curcumin can help with Crohn’s. If you’re curious about trying curcumin supplements for Crohn’s, run it past your doctor first.
8. Bring on the bromelain
Bromelain is a natural enzyme found in pineapples 🍍.
Some peeps take bromelain supplements to soothe sensitive stomachs or relieve diarrhea. Research seems promising — but it’s important to know that studies so far have been done on animals, not humans.
One 2017 study, for instance, found that bromelain improved IBD symptoms in rats.
9. Thunder god vine, anyone?
Thunder god vine, thunder duke vine, Tripterygium wilfordii … Whatever you call it, this herb might be a helpful remedy for Crohn’s disease.
In one older research review, scientists found that taking thunder god vine supplements helped Crohn’s disease patients prevent relapses after surgical intervention.
Because the research is so slim, it’s important to talk with your doctor about taking this herb for Crohn’s disease.
10. Experiment with aloe vera
Aloe vera — so cool, so fresh, so soothing. It’s got a reputation for calming psoriasis and eczema, but what about Crohn’s?
Recent research on animals suggests that rectal application of aloe vera extract (yep, we’re talkin’ suppositories) could reduce inflammation and promote healing during a flare-up. But we still need more research on humans to know the full effect.
11. Consider ACV
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been waaaaaay overhyped as a cure for everything from dandruff to warts. And now we’re suggesting it as a natural remedy against an incurable GI disease?!
Here’s the thing: ACV is not going to cure Crohn’s. It *might* not even soothe your symptoms. But a 2016 animal study did find that ingesting vinegar might boost good gut bacteria and lead to lower levels of inflammation. This might help ward off nasty Crohn’s flares.
Evidence is pretty slim and preliminary, but there’s probably no harm in shaking up an ACV dressing for your lunchtime salad.
12. Reach for patchouli, lavender, and peppermint essential oils
TBH, there’s not a ton of research on using essential oils for Crohn’s disease, but some folks use them to ease symptoms via aromatherapy or massage.
If you do want to use essential oils, research shows these ones *might* help (just note research is mostly from animal studies and not real-life essential oil use):
- Patchouli. Animal research from 2017 found that patchouli oil successfully soothes inflammation related to digestive woes like colitis and ulcers.
- Lavender. Recent research confirms that lavender oil helps reduce inflammation and damage to colon tissue in mice. Though existing studies are on animals instead of humans, we *do* know that lavender can also soothe stress and anxiety, common Crohn’s triggers.
- Peppermint. Research suggests that peppermint oil can dial down IBD-related GI probs.
As with other natural remedies, talk with your doc before adding essential oils to your treatment plan.
You should also NEVER ingest essential oils. If you get the A-OK to add essential oils to your Crohn’s treatment plan, diffusing or topically applying essential oils that are diluted in a carrier oil is the way to go.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
13. Try acupuncture
You might think it’s balderdash, but yes, research suggests that acupuncture does relieve pain. And that might include abdominal pain or other irritation and inflammation from Crohn’s.
TBH, there just aren’t enough studies to confirm if, when, and how much acupuncture can help with Crohn’s symptoms — but anecdotal accounts say it might be worth a shot.
14. Incorporate biofeedback
Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches you to control your body’s involuntary processes:
- skin temperature
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- muscle tension
- and even heart rate
Researchers still aren’t sure exactly how biofeedback works. But the key takeaway is that for some folks with chronic conditions, it does work to help them manage symptoms.
What’s the tea on THC?
Some folks with Crohn’s use medical cannabis or CBD to manage their symptoms.
Limited research suggests that compounds of the cannabis plant can dial down:
That said, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has *not* approved medical cannabis as a treatment for Crohn’s disease. And we need more research to understand the link between cannabis and IBD.
For now, consider the laws in your area and talk with your doctor before trying weed or CBD for Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease isn’t just a pain. It can lead to serious GI damage, including bowel obstructions and ulcers.
While natural remedies can help soothe symptoms, it’s important to work with a doctor to help manage your condition with a long-term treatment plan. And if you notice new or worsening symptoms (hello, fiery diarrhea that doesn’t respond to meds), it’s time to make another appointment with your doctor or gastroenterologist.