Many people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) search for complementary and alternative treatments to help ease their symptoms. As many as half of all people who have Crohn's disease may turn to these types of treatments. Many of these remedies have not been researched, but a few complementary and alternative treatments for Crohn's disease that have been studied include slippery elm and omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are not made by our bodies, but are necessary for good health and have anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood such as salmon, herring, mackerel, albacore tuna, and sardines, as well as walnuts, flax, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, and soy. They can also be found in supplement form, most often as a fish oil capsule.
Studies on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in IBD have had mixed results. In two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, a total of 738 people with Crohn's disease were given either omega-3 free fatty acids or a placebo. The omega-3 group and the placebo group had roughly the same percentage of relapses, leading the authors to conclude omega-3 free fatty acids aren't effective at preventing Crohn's flare-ups. In another study, 38 pediatric patients with Crohn's patients in remission were given either enteric-coated omega-3 fatty acid capsules or a placebo of olive oil, along with a 5-ASA drug. The patients receiving the omega-3 fatty acids had fewer incidences of flare-ups over the study period of one year.
In general, omega-3 fatty acids are a healthful addition to the diet, as they have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Side effects from fish oil supplements can include foul-tasting belches and diarrhea, but time-release capsules may help alleviate these problems.
Remember to consult your health care team before deciding to try any supplements for Crohn's disease. Even "natural" supplements can interact with medications or cause allergic reactions.
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