Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of autoimmune conditions that are characterized by chronic intestinal inflammation. (5) The types of IBD include Crohn’s disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC). Both conditions can cause symptoms that can severely disrupt the quality of life for the patient.

Crohn’s disease is named after its discoverer Dr. Burrill B. Crohn, and ulcerative colitis is so named because it causes sores or ulcers on the lining of the large intestine. Both conditions are typically characterized by severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss. (5)

Comparing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

While CD and UC are both types of IBD and possess similarities, they also differ in many aspects. Summarized below are some key factors comparing CD versus UC:

  • Both conditions are typically diagnosed in younger individuals, most commonly appearing between the ages 15 to 35.
  • UC primarily affects the innermost part of the colon, while CD can affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, rectum, and anus.
  • Symptoms of both conditions are similar; however, rectal bleeding is more common with UC than CD.
  • Individuals with CD are more likely to develop folate and vitamin D deficiencies, while people with UC are more likely to be deficient in iron. (9)

According to Dr. Hoffman, “malabsorption, diarrhea, and GI blood loss are common features of IBD, and therefore deficiencies of B vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, and essential fatty acids, and key minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and selenium are extremely common.” He also states that “certain vitamins and minerals have therapeutic effects beyond just staving off deficiency.”

Woman holding a vitamin

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can help the IBD patient by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.

Symptoms and side effects of both of these conditions can be uncomfortable and painful, and both conditions can become life-threatening. (2) There presently is no known medical or surgical cure for IBD, and the conventional approach to treatment typically focuses on managing symptoms with anti-inflammatory medication. (5)

Best supplements for IBD

Achieving remission is a key clinical goal for patients with IBD. An integrative approach to IBD treatment often involves the use of certain dietary supplements that have been shown to help reduce the risk of IBD, as well as help correct nutrient deficiencies and induce sustained remission.

“I have decades of experience working with IBD patients in my clinical practice, and the vast majority of them improve dramatically with the right kind of diet modification and nutritional support,” explained integrative health expert Ronald Hoffman, MD. “Many are able to taper off their medications and resume a pain-free existence.”

Vitamin D for IBD

As mentioned previously, individuals with IBD, especially CD, typically experience low levels of vitamin D. Oral supplementation with vitamin D can both correct underlying deficiencies and provide many therapeutic effects, including:

  • Improving response to anti-TNF alpha treatment
  • Reducing inflammatory markers
  • Reduced the risk of colon cancer
  • Reducing the risk of anemia (6)

IBD patients with suboptimal levels of vitamin D are at an increased risk for disease relapse, inadequate response to drug therapy, and decreased quality of life. (7)

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids can benefit IBD patients by reducing levels of oxidative stress and inflammation. According to a 2019 review of 15 studies, omega-3 fatty acid intake reduced intestinal inflammation, induced and maintained clinical remission in patients with UC, reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines, decreased disease activity, and increased quality of life in patients with CD. (8)

Probiotics

A key underlying factor with IBD is gut disruption, contributing to imbalances in intestinal microbiota, increased inflammation, and sustained mucosal immune activation. (3) As a result, individuals with IBD typically have an increased number of pro-inflammatory bacterial species, a decreased number of anti-inflammatory species, and reduced overall bacterial diversity. (4) For this reason, researchers continue to explore the benefits of probiotics with respect to IBD disease prevention, progression, and remission.

Woman scooping yogurt into a bowl

Researchers continue to explore the benefit that probiotics can have regarding disease prevention, progression, and remission.

Probiotics have been shown to correct dysbiosis in individuals with IBD, however, there is presently no consensus as to which strains, forms, and dosages will provide the best clinical results. (1) Thus far, efficacy has been shown with specific species and strains, including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Escherichia coli Nissle 1917. (10)

The bottom line

Treating the two most common forms of IBD, CD, and UC can be challenging; however, targeted dietary supplements designed to reduce inflammation and enhance GI health may benefit patients in achieving remission and enhancing the quality of life. If you suffer from IBD, speak to your integrative healthcare practitioner about the dietary supplement options that may benefit you.

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  1. Basso, P. J., Camara, N., & Sales-Campos, H. (2019). Microbial-based therapies in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease — an overview of human studies. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9, 1571. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2018.01571/full
  2. Baumgart, D. C., & Sandborn, W.J. (2007). Inflammatory bowel disease: clinical aspects and established and evolving therapies. Lancet, 12;369, 1641-57. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17499606/
  3. de Mattos, B. R., Garcia, M. P., Nogueira, J. B., Paiatto, L. N., Albuquerque, C. G., Souza, C. L., Fernandes, L. G., Tamashiro, W. M., & Simioni, P. U. (2015). Inflammatory Bowel Disease: An Overview of Immune Mechanisms and Biological Treatments. Mediators of inflammation, 2015, 493012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4539174/
  4. Derwa, Y., Gracie, D. J., Hamlin, P. J., & Ford, A. C. (2017). Systematic review with meta-analysis: the efficacy of probiotics in inflammatory disease. AP&T, 46, 3890400. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/apt.14203
  5. Fakhoury, M., Negrulj, R., Mooranian, A., & Al-Salami, H. (2014). Inflammatory bowel disease: clinical aspects and treatments. Journal of inflammation research, 7, 113–120. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106026/
  6. Fletcher, J., Cooper, S. C., Ghosh, S., & Hewison, M. (2019). The Role of Vitamin D in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Mechanism to Management. Nutrients, 11(5), 1019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566188/
  7. Leskovar, D., Meštrović, T., Barešić, A., Kraljević, I., Panek, M., Čipčić Paljetak, H., Perić, M., Matijašić, M., Rogić, D., Barišić, A., Ljubas Kelečić, D., Vranešić Bender, D., Krznarić, Ž., & Verbanac, D. (2018). The Role of Vitamin D in Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Assessing Therapeutic and Preventive Potential of Supplementation and Food Fortification. Food technology and biotechnology, 56(4), 455–463. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6399717/
  8. Marton, L. T., Goulart, R. A., Carvalho, A., & Barbalho, S. M. (2019). Omega Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: An Overview. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(19), 4851. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6801729/
  9. Seyedian, S. S., Nokhostin, F., & Malamir, M. D. (2019). A review of the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment methods of inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of medicine and life, 12(2), 113–122. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6685307/
  10. Silva, N. O., de Brito, B. B., da Silva, F., Santos, M., & de Melo, F. (2020). World Journal of Meta-Analysis, 8(2),54-66 https://www.wjgnet.com/2308-3840/full/v8/i2/54.htm