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Supplements That Help Crohns Disease

Dietary supplements are natural alternatives to drugs and they are safe and effective in the treatment of Crohn’s disease. Most of the herbs, vitamins, probiotics and healing factors used to treat Crohn’s disease in alternative medicine work by multiple mechanisms and have overlapping benefits. Therefore, they can be combined to effectively treat Crohn’s disease and help maintain patients in remission. Which of these dietary supplements are effective and how do they work? How are they different from the antibiotics and steroids commonly recommended for this inflammatory bowel disease? Read on to find out.
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Slippery Elm

The mucilage extracted from the bark of slippery elm tree can help relieve the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. When mixed with water, the mucilage forms a coating gel that can protect the gastrointestinal mucosa from further damage and promote the healing of lesions and ulcers in the gut.

In addition, the gel made from this herb increases the secretion of mucous in the gastrointestinal tract. Increased mucous secretion can help remove toxins and irritants from intestinal mucosa.

Lastly, slippery elm also has anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, besides soothing the gut, slippery elm can help reduce inflammation in Crohn’s disease. The combination of these two effects can significantly improve Crohn’s disease symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea and intestinal bleeding.


The medicinal preparation made from marshmallow is also a gel obtained from the mucilage of the plant.

Marshmallow shares the same medicinal properties as slippery elm. Its gel provides a protective coating for the intestinal mucosa. Therefore, it promotes healing and stops bleeding from intestinal ulcer.

In addition, marshmallow also has antioxidant properties. However, because the herb can lower blood sugar levels, it should not be given to diabetics who also suffer from Crohn’s disease.


Psyllium is a soluble fiber. Like slippery elm and marshmallow, it needs to absorb water to be effective.

However, it has no demulcent or anti-inflammatory properties. Rather, psyllium is used in the management of Crohn’s disease to provide relief for diarrhea and constipation.

Care should be taken with using psyllium (and other soluble fibers) to stop diarrhea in Crohn’s disease. This is because psyllium is a laxative at high doses and can, therefore, worsen diarrhea when taken in large amounts.

In addition, psyllium should be avoided by Crohn’s disease patients with obstructed bowel. When sections of the gastrointestinal tract are partially blocked, the passage of psyllium fiber through the gut is impeded. Since soluble fibers are not absorbed, the psyllium can worsen the blockage of the bowel and trigger sharp abdominal pains as well as cause bloating and gas.

Cat’s Claw

Cat’s claw is the herb taken from a South American woody vine. It has a potent anti-inflammatory activity that makes it useful for treating diseases characterized by chronic inflammation.

Therefore, cat’s claw is used to treat arthritis and rheumatism. It is also effective for reducing the intestinal inflammation seen in Crohn’s disease.

Besides its anti-inflammatory properties, the antioxidant property of cat’s claw is also useful in Crohn’s disease. Antioxidant herbs like cat’s claw can help protect the intestinal mucosa from toxin and free radical damage.

Lastly, cat’s claw can boost the immune system. This is both good and bad for patients with Crohn’s disease.

By boosting the immune system, cat’s claw can improve the body’s defenses against the microorganisms and toxins that damage the gastrointestinal mucosa. However, this immune boost can also worsen inflammation in the gut.


Flaxseed is also known as linseed. Like psyllium, flaxseed is a dietary source of soluble fiber. Therefore, it can help reduce diarrhea. It should also be taken only in recommended dose and with lots of water to avoid triggering constipation or diarrhea.

However, flaxseed contains more than soluble fiber. It also contains lignans and the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA (alpha linolenic acid).

ALA has an anti-inflammatory property that can help reduce inflammation and also promote the healing of the gastrointestinal mucosa.

Green Tea

Green tea is rich in antioxidants. The antioxidants in green tea are known as polyphenols.

Green tea antioxidants are quite potent and they can protect the gut from free radical and toxin damage. Studies show that regular consumption of green tea can reduce the risk of colon cancer in patients with Crohn’s disease.


Ginkgo is another herb rich in antioxidants. Like green tea antioxidants, ginkgo can help mop up harmful free radicals from the digestive tract. By doing this, it reduces the formation of lesions and ulcers as well as inflammation in the gut.

Ginkgo should only be taken in recommended doses when used to treat Crohn’s disease. This is because some of its side effects (diarrhea and abdominal pain) can worsen the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.


Valerian is commonly used in alternative medicine to calm nerves and treat insomnia. In the management of Crohn’s disease, its relaxing effect on the muscles can help reduce abdominal pain, frequent bowel movement and bloating.

By relaxing the smooth muscles of the gut, valerian contributes to the healing of the damaged intestinal mucosa.


Peppermint is known for its high content of volatile oils such as menthol. It is normally used topically to soothe inflamed skin. However, peppermint can also soothe the gastrointestinal mucosa by the same mechanism.

Therefore, peppermint relieves irritation and inflammation in the gut affected by Crohn’s disease.

This herb can also provide relief for other symptoms of Crohn’s disease such as diarrhea, cramps and even depression.

In addition, peppermint has antibacterial and antifungal actions. This makes it effective against the bacteria (such as Escherichia coli) and fungi (such as Candida albicans) known to cause Crohn’s disease.


Goldenseal is an important herb in the treatment of Crohn’s disease because of its antimicrobial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and astringent properties.

Goldenseal promotes the secretion of mucous in the gut to help protect the gastrointestinal mucosa and wash away irritants and invading microbes. In addition, goldenseal stimulates the release of IgA, an antimicrobial immunoglobulin.

Besides these indirect antimicrobial actions, goldenseal has direct antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help reduce the population of invading, pathogenic fungi and bacteria in the gut.


Vitamin A

Because vitamin A is one of the fat-soluble vitamins, its deficiency is quite common among people with Crohn’s disease. This deficiency is due to the significantly reduced absorption of fat in Crohn’s disease.

Low vitamin A levels can have far-reaching consequences in the body because a lot of biochemical reactions and physiological processes depend on different forms of the vitamin. For example, vitamin A is needed to prevent loss of vision.

In addition, studies show vitamin A has anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve the inflamed mucosal in Crohn’s disease.

Folic Acid

Folic acid or vitamin B9 is a water-soluble B vitamin. It is one of the two most important B vitamins required in Crohn’s disease.

Folate deficiency is quite common among people with inflammatory bowel disease. This is because the damage in the gastrointestinal tract impairs the absorption of folic acid.

However, impaired absorption is not the only cause of folate deficiency in Crohn’s deficiency. Folic acid is actually needed in higher amounts in Crohn’s disease. This is because the cells of the immune system needs folic acid to mount an effective defense against bacteria and toxins.

The increased need for folic acid is, however, not fulfilled by increased ingestion of food sources of folic acid.

In addition, certain drugs (sulfasalazine and methotrexate) used in the treatment of Crohn’s disease as well as the surgical removal of sections of the intestine can reduce the absorption of this vitamin.

Folic acid supplementation is needed to prevent anemia caused by intestinal bleeding in Crohn’s disease.

In addition, folic acid is needed to reduce the damage caused by free radicals. For example, folate deficiency leads to the accumulation of homocysteine, a toxic intermediate of amino acid synthesis. Studies show that homocysteine contributes to the destruction of the gastrointestinal mucosa.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is just as important as folic acid in the management of Crohn’s disease. Like folate deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused by malabsorption and can result in anemia as well as the accumulation of homocysteine.

Vitamin B12 is absorbed into the blood from the terminal ileum. Unfortunately, this part of the small intestine is commonly damaged in Crohn’s disease.

Therefore, vitamin B12 levels cannot be raised with foods or oral supplements. Rather, vitamin B12 injections, nasal spray or transdermal patches should be used.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is involved in inflammatory process and the regulation of the immune system. This makes it one of the most important vitamins in the management of Crohn’s disease.

In fact, epidemiological studies show that Crohn’s disease is most common in areas where vitamin D deficiency is also common. This shows that vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of the inflammatory bowel disease.

Besides reducing inflammation in the gut and regulating immune reaction to the damage done to the intestinal mucosa, vitamin D also has antibacterial activity that can contribute to the reduction in the population of pathogenic bacteria colonizing the gut.

Lastly, vitamin D can help prevent the demineralization of the bone, a common complication of Crohn’s disease. Because vitamin D is required for the regulation of calcium levels in the bones, it can help prevent osteomalacia in people with Crohn’s disease.

Studies have shown that taking vitamin D supplements can significantly improve the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Where oral supplementation is impossible or ineffective, exposure to sunlight and even tanning beds have been demonstrated to help raise vitamin D levels and help put Crohn’s disease into remission.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is an essential vitamin in the management of Crohn’s disease because it reduces the risks of bone loss.

This is because the body needs vitamin K to make the protein used to bind calcium to bones. Therefore, the combination of vitamin K deficiency and vitamin D deficiency can significantly accelerate bone diseases in Crohn’s disease.

Vitamin K deficiency is common among patients with damaged ileum, patients who have lived with Crohn’s disease the longest and patients placed on antibiotics and sulfasalazine.

For such patients increased intake of vitamin K either from supplements (vitamin K2) or food (vitamin K) is required.



Zinc deficiency in Crohn’s disease is caused by diarrhea. Since diarrhea is one of the presentations of zinc deficiency, it simply gets worse when coupled with Crohn’s disease. Therefore, the first step to treating zinc deficiency for people with this inflammatory bowel disease is addressing diarrhea.

Since vitamins A and D control zinc levels in the body, vitamin A and D deficiencies may cause zinc deficiency. This means that all three deficiencies should be treated at the same time.

Zinc deficiency in Crohn’s disease is most common among children. Given the fact that zinc is needed for growth and sexual maturity, zinc supplementation is highly recommended for children with Crohn’s disease.

Besides addressing deficiency, zinc supplementation can also contribute to the treatment of Crohn’s disease because the mineral is incorporated in antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase.

In addition, zinc improves intestinal barrier function. Therefore, it can be used to protect the lining of the intestinal tract from oxidative damage, improve the structural integrity of the mucosa and prevent “leaky gut” syndrome.


Like zinc, magnesium is lost in Crohn’s disease because of the increased bowel movement and electrolyte imbalance caused by diarrhea.

Besides diarrhea, removal of sections of the small intestine can cause magnesium deficiency. Studies show that removing more than 75 cm of the ileum significantly increases the risk of magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency can cause lethargy, irritability, mental confusion, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms and convulsion.

In addition, magnesium is linked to calcium levels in the body and is, therefore, important to bone health.

In fact, more than half of the body’s store of magnesium is found in the bones. Therefore, low magnesium levels can increase the risks of arthritis and bone diseases in patients with Crohn’s disease.


Iron deficiency is most common among Crohn’s disease patients with considerable intestinal bleeding.

This is because iron is stored in the hemoglobin of red blood cells. Therefore, blood loss can lead to iron deficiency and also anemia.

While oral iron supplementation is recommended for Crohn’s disease patients with intestinal bleeding and anemia, the inflamed lesions in the gastrointestinal tract can impair the absorption of iron. Oral iron supplements can also deposit iron in ferrous form in the gut. This can quickly worsen inflammation in the intestine.

Therefore, iron injections may be given where oral iron supplements will aggravate the inflamed mucosa.

When iron injections fail to raise iron levels, other means of increasing red blood cell population such as transfusion are recommended.

Other Supplements

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), are important anti-inflammatory agents commonly used in the treatment of diseases involving chronic inflammation.

These fatty acids can be found in fish oils such as cod liver oil and in fatty fish like mackerel, sardine, salmon and herring. They are also available as dietary supplements.

Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce intestinal inflammation in Crohn’s disease. Therefore, these fatty acids can help keep Crohn’s disease in remission.

N-Acetyl Glucosamine

N-acetyl glucosamine is a carbohydrate found in nature. It is a structural molecule that is used to repair soft tissues such as the ones that make up the intestinal mucosa.

Therefore, N-acetyl glucosamine can help speed up the healing of inflamed gastrointestinal mucosa.

Although it is synthesized from glucose, N-acetyl glucosamine rather than glucosamine supplement should be given to people with Crohn’s disease. This is because a few enzymes involved in the synthetic pathway responsible for converting glucosamine to N-acetyl glucosamine is impaired in Crohn’s disease.

Available clinical studies show that N-acetyl glucosamine supplementation is not only safe in the treatment of Crohn’s disease but that it is also effective and inexpensive.


Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that provide certain health benefits to the host.

Ideally, the gut is populated by a number of these beneficial bacteria. However, changes in the gut microflora caused by a number of factors including long-term, broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy can kill off the population of “good” bacteria in the gut.

Without these beneficial bacteria to keep pathogens in check, the gut is quickly colonized by microbes (such as candida) that damage the intestinal mucosa and trigger the misguided immune reaction responsible for the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Therefore, probiotics are a means of reintroducing beneficial bacteria to the gut where they can help reduce the growth of pathogens, allow the damaged mucosa to heal and break the cycle of inflammation in the gut.

How Probiotics Help Crohn’s Disease
  • Reduce the incidence and severity of diarrhea
  • Improve lactose tolerance
  • Reduce the risk of colon cancer
  • Enhance the “attack” component of the immune system
  • Scale back the “defense” component of the immune system and, therefore, reduce inflammation
  • Promote the syntheses of folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin K in the gastrointestinal tract





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