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Herbal supplements

Crohn’s disease (CD) is a condition that causes chronic inflammation along the digestive tract. Such inflammation can lead to a variety of symptoms including diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain and fatigue. The most important part of treating CD and its symptoms are medications including aminosalicylates, immunomodulators, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and biologic therapies. However, some people with CD may choose to supplement their medication (but not replace them) with alternative or complementary therapies, such as herbal supplementation.

Before starting any kind of alternative or complementary therapy, it is very important for patients to consult with their healthcare provider. There are potential adverse reactions due to various drug interactions with herbal supplements. Make sure your healthcare provider is aware of all the medications or supplements that you are taking, so they can advise you about any potential risks.

What are medicinal herbs?

Medicinal herbs are plants and botanical matter that are thought to have an impact on health and health conditions.1 Different parts of the plants can be used for different types of treatment.

How might herbal supplements have an effect on CD symptoms?

Some people with CD may find that they experience some symptom relief from herbal supplementation.1,2 However, there has not yet been much research done on the potential relationship between CD and medicinal herbs. There have been studies carried out on herbs that are used to help prevent inflammation, which might potentially have an effect on symptoms associated with inflammation caused by CD. Herbs that are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties include:

  • Slippery elm
  • Marshmallow
  • Turmeric
  • Cat’s claw
  • Boswelia

What is slippery elm?

Slippery Elm, or Ulmus fulva, has been traditionally used for centuries by Native Americans.3 It is a mucilaginous herb, meaning it becomes thick and mucous-like when wet. It is often recommended by herbalists to help with sore throats, diarrhea, and stomach problems. For some people, the mucous-like substance is thought to be calming or soothing to irritation or inflammation of the digestive tract. It can be taken orally as capsules, tablets, tinctures or tea.

What is marshmallow?

Marshmallow, Althea officinalis, is a medicinal herb that has been used for more than 2,000 years.4 Similar to slippery elm, marshmallow root and leaves contain a mucilage, or a mucous-like substance. When marshmallow is mixed with water it forms a gel-like substance that can be used to soothe and coat the throat, stomach and digestive tract. It is thought that this soothing gel might help to reduce inflammation for some people.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, has been widely used as a food and a medicine for thousands of years.5 Turmeric is typically used by drying and grinding the root into a powder. The powder is then used in capsules, tablets, teas, tinctures and pastes to treat a wide variety of diseases and illnesses. For some people, turmeric is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties when taken orally.

What is cat’s claw?

Cat’s Claw, Uncaria guianensis, is a woody vine whose medicinal uses date back to the Inca civilization.6 It is most often used to treat inflammation related to arthritis. Cat’s claw supplements can be taken as capsules, tinctures and teas.

What is boswelia?

Boswelia, Boswellia serrata, is a medium- to large-sized tree that grows in the mountainous regions of India, Northern Africa, and the Middle East.7 The acids found in the resin from boswelia trees are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. It is typically taken orally, as a capsule tablet or tincture.

Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last Reviewed: January 2016.
  1. University of Maryland Medical Center. “Crohn’s Disease.” Available at: https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/crohns-disease. [Accessed: October 11, 2015].
  2. Bone K. “Crohn’s disease phytotherapy review and commentary. Available at: http://www.crohns.net/miva/education/articles/Crohns_Colitis_Bone_Phytotherapy.shtml [Accessed: October 11, 2015].
  3. University of Maryland Medical Center. “Slippery Elm.” Available at: https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/slippery-elm. [Accessed: October 11, 2015].
  4. University of Maryland Medical Center. “Mashmallow.” Available at: https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/marshmallow. [Accessed: October 11, 2015]
  5. Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2011. Chapter 13. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Cat’s Claw.” Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/catclaw. [Accessed: October 11, 2015].
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information. “ Boswellia Serrata, a Potential Antiinflammatory Agent: An Overview.” Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309643/. [Accessed: October 11, 2015].