The 7 Best Herbs for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a painful inflammatory disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. It’s estimated that 1.3% of the US population struggle with IBD.  This article gives a review of …

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Written by: Siobhan Mendicino
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Medical Review by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a painful inflammatory disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. It’s estimated that 1.3% of the US population struggle with IBD

This article gives a review of the scientific research behind the best herbs for inflammatory bowel disease and its symptoms. 

best herbs for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Quick Overview:

Inflammatory bowel disease is considered a gastrointestinal (GI) chronic inflammatory disease that can be divided into two subcategories: Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). In both cases, there is significant inflammation throughout the gastrointestinal tract.

The exact cause of IBD is unknown, however, researchers believe it to be the result of a weakened immune system. One hypothesis is that the immune system responds incorrectly to environmental triggers, such as virus or bacteria exposure, which causes inflammation throughout the gastrointestinal tract. There is also thought to be a genetic component.

In the United States, nearly 500,00 people suffer from Crohn’s disease and around 600,000 people suffer from ulcerative colitis. While IBD usually occurs between the ages of 15 to 30, there is a chance for adolescents to develop it and a 10-15% chance people will develop it after the age of 60.   

Research indicates that females are slightly more likely to develop Crohn’s disease. IBD shows up more commonly in colder, developed regions of the world.

Best Herbs for Inflammatory Bowel Disease:

Below are a number of research-backed herbs for inflammatory bowel disease. 

1. Turmeric

Turmeric is one of the top remedies for inflammatory bowel disease. Specifically, turmeric appears to be one of the best herbs for Crohn’s disease.

The main phytochemical in turmeric, curcumin, seems to be responsible for turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effect. Curcumin is what makes turmeric one of the best herbs for intestinal inflammation.

A trial observing patients with dormant ulcerative colitis found that curcumin capsules significantly reduced inflammation in the bowels. This effectively reduced the risk of a relapse for those that received the capsules. 

Another study involving participants with ulcerative proctitis (a mild form of ulcerative colitis) and Crohn’s disease discovered that the administration of curcumin for 3 months significantly reduced the severity of inflammation. Researchers saw improvements in multiple gut health biomarkers, including the frequency of bowel movements, the formation of stools, and a decrease in abdominal cramping and pain.  

It should also be noted that the European Medicines Agency approves of turmeric as a herb that is helpful for digestive health.

Summary:

Human research shows that turmeric may be one of the best herbs for inflammatory bowel disease due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Boswellia

Indian Frankincense, or boswellia, is one of the best herbs for irritable bowel disease.

Clinical research points to terpenes and triterpenic acids in boswellia as the active constituents responsible for its anti-inflammatory effect.  

In a trial involving patients with ulcerative colitis, researchers found that there was a significant reduction in chronic inflammation after administering 350mg of boswellia 3x/day for 6 weeks. 82% of individuals taking the resin went into remission while only 75% of subjects taking the placebo went into remission. 

An in vitro study found that boswellia extract reduced inflammation in cell cultures. Along with the anti-inflammatory effect, the extract was also able to protect healthy cells against inflammation. 

Summary:

Clinical trials indicate that boswellia may work to reduce the chronic inflammation associated with irritable bowel disease and ulcerative colitis.

3. Jujube

Jujube is a date-like fruit that is highly revered for its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s best known for its ability to support gut health, which makes it a helpful herb for IBD. This makes it potentially one of the herbs for intestinal inflammation

The polysaccharides in jujube are thought to have the ability to protect the gastrointestinal tract from harmful symptoms of IBD. A study mentioned that jujube’s polysaccharides had an enhancing effect on the intestinal barrier function – this works to reduce inflammation and prevents harmful bacteria from entering the gut. 

In an animal trial, jujube fruit was able to decrease chronic inflammation after 7 days of administration. Researchers believe that these effects were attributed to the active constituents jujubosides, flavonoids, and terpenes in jujube which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. 

An in vitro study observing jujube fruit extract found that the extract had a regulating effect on the pro-inflammatory response of white blood cells. Results appeared after 24 hours of administration. 

Summary:

According to research, jujube may be useful for supporting gastrointestinal health from symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.

4. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a versatile, aromatic herb that has long been used for its relaxing effects on the gastrointestinal tract. It is a helpful, relieving herb for irritable bowel disease. 

In a combination study, participants with IBD were given a herbal blend containing lemon balm, spearmint, and coriander three times per day for 8 weeks. Subjects experienced less pain and discomfort as well as a decrease in the frequency and severity of bloating.

An animal study found that lemon balm extract has the ability to reduce pain in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as improve gut health in rats with IBS. Researchers believe the lemon balm’s anti-inflammatory properties are responsible for this effect.

Germany’s Commission E (1998), and the European Medicines Agency both indicate that lemon balm is effective for individuals with gastrointestinal issues. 

Summary:

Studies show evidence of lemon balm’s ability to reduce gastrointestinal pain and decrease symptoms of irritable bowel disease.

5. Cinnamon 

The herb cinnamon is widely known for its culinary use, but its anti-inflammatory properties make it one of the most supportive herbs for irritable bowel disease. This makes it one of the top herbs for intestinal inflammation

An animal study discovered that cinnamon essential oil has the ability to reduce inflammatory symptoms involved with IBD. Researchers found that cinnamon’s antimicrobial properties may also reduce the severity of IBD as well as promote gut health. 

Another animal trial found that cinnamon extract and one of its main active constituents, cinnamaldehyde, was able to reduce inflammation in cases of ulcerative colitis. The extract also reduced the number of biomarkers that create fibroids in the gastrointestinal tract. 

An in vitro study discovered that cinnamon extract has the ability to inhibit the inflammatory response. The extract was able to reduce inflamed tissue of the gut by regulating t-cells. 

The German Commission E (1998) approved cinnamon bark for gastrointestinal health, including for bloating, flatulence, and loss of appetite.

Additionally, the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) and European Medicines Agency note that cinnamon bark is helpful for treating those experiencing mild diarrhea.

Summary:

A combination of both animal and in vitro research indicates that cinnamon may reduce the severity of IBD symptoms. Human studies are required to confirm this finding.

6. Ginger

Ginger is a rhizome that is one of the most well-known herbs for irritable bowel disease and other gastrointestinal issues. 

In an animal study, ginger extract was able to reduce inflammation in rats with IBS. The extract, specifically the gingerol content, decreased pro-inflammatory markers which could help reduce severe chronic inflammation caused by IBS. 

In a pilot study, 45 participants with IBS found less than effective results when comparing the placebo to the ginger group. Researchers noted, however, that a larger trial with ginger could potentially produce effective trends due to the study’s encouraging data.  

The European Medicines Agency mentions that ginger is a supportive therapeutic option for mild complaints of the gut.

Summary:

Studies show that ginger may work to reduce inflammation caused by IBS, but further human clinical research is needed for the verification of this finding.

7. Devil’s Claw  

Devil’s claw is considered one of the top anti-inflammatory herbs for irritable bowel disease.

The inhibition of the inflammation response is thought to be due to the active constituents in devil’s claw, iridoid glycosides.

In an animal study, devil’s claw extract was able to regulate the immune, inflammatory, and oxidative stress response in rat colon specimens that had ulcerative colitis. The application was well-tolerated by the cells in the colon specimen implying that devil’s claw extract might be helpful for attenuating IBD symptoms. 

The European Medicines Agency verifies that devil’s claw can be a therapeutic option for those with mild digestive disorders, such as flatulence, bloating, and loss of appetite. 

Summary:

Research demonstrates that devil’s claw may be helpful in alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel disease and supporting gut health. Human studies are needed to confirm these findings.
the best herbs for inflammatory bowel disease - ginger

Common Symptoms of IBD:

IBD is a painful ailment of the gastrointestinal tract that causes inflammation along with a number of other symptoms. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have very similar symptoms that can sometimes be difficult to tell apart. 

Crohn’s disease manifests itself as inflammation in any part of the gastrointestinal tract but primarily occurs in the lower part of the small intestine.

Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease (other than inflammation) include: 

  • Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Malnutrition 
  • Risk of rectal bleeding (less common) 

Ulcerative colitis occurs in the innermost mucosal lining of the colon. The large intestine becomes continuously inflamed and lesions are common.

Common symptoms of UC include:  

  • Severe pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Iron deficiency 

IBD can be the catalyst for a number of other diseases due to the inefficiency of the gastrointestinal tract.  

Effects of IBD:  

Chronic inflammation is the main cause of any IBD, and without proper therapy, it can lead to a number of different illnesses. 

When damaging microbes are permitted into the gastrointestinal tract, they can cause more chronic inflammation and a number of life-threatening ailments

Some of those issues/diseases include: 

  • Colon cancer
  • Scarring and narrowing of the bile ducts
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Blood clots
  • Malnutrition
  • Fistulas
  • Anal fissures 

While there are pharmaceutical medications that work to alleviate the inflammation of the gut, there is no cure for IBD and drugs may lead to detrimental side effects. 

Conclusion:

IBD can be a painful illness that can affect both physical and mental health. 

Natural herbs may help reduce the severity of IBD and may decrease the likelihood of recurrence once someone is in remission. 

Scientific research shows promising results that the herbs listed above support the reduction of IBD symptoms.

As with all supplements, it is important to consult a medical practitioner should you consider making any changes to your standard routine. 

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About Siobhan Mendicino

Siobhan is a herbal researcher and writer. She has a bachelor of science in communications as well as having completed a post-baccalaureate certificate in herbal studies.

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