Turmeric and its powerful constituent, curcumin, are no strangers to scientific research. Long used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, the Curcuma longa plant always had an aura surrounding it regarding its therapeutic benefits.
With thousands of clinical and peer-reviewed studies in the books, we now have a vast swath of evidence suggesting that it’s more than just hype. But, can turmeric help with IBD, specifically ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease?
Turmeric for Ulcerative Colitis & Crohn’s Disease
Turmeric has shown potential as an alternative treatment in several conditions characterized by inflammation. These include arthritis, fibromyalgia, and eczema and psoriasis. Curcumin can even help detox and cleanse the liver.
Numerous studies have emerged, suggesting that curcumin can also target a few of the primary causes of IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). Thus, it may help reduce some of the uncomfortable symptoms, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue, and rectal bleeding. (1)
To understand how curcumin helps, we first need to look at the causes of IBD.
What is IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)?
IBD is a term that describes two conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. With IBD, the patient suffers from chronic inflammation in the GI tract (gastrointestinal tract). Unfortunately, this prolonged inflammation may cause extensive damage to the GI tract leading to significant pain and discomfort.
If left untreated, chronic intestinal inflammation can even lead to colorectal cancer. There are a few key differences between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis to consider:
- Crohn’s can impact most of the GI tract ranging from the mouth to the anus. Though, it usually affects the part of the small intestine preceding the large intestine.
- Damaged areas are patchy (damaged tissue appears next to healthy tissue).
- The inflammation can reach through multiple layers of the GI tract walls.
- Ulcerative colitis frequently occurs in the rectum and the large intestine (colon).
- Damaged areas are continuous, not patchy, and they start at the rectum extending further into the colon.
- Inflammation is usually only present in the innermost layer of the colon lining. (2)
There is one other important note to consider: IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) is NOT the same as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Bear in mind; these are two completely different issues that require different treatment. Although symptoms may overlap between the two, they should not be confused.
Why Turmeric Curcumin?
We know that curcumin possesses many vital healing properties. Perhaps its most substantial assets are its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. By targeting inflammation directly, it’s thought that curcumin can benefit IBD symptoms and improve quality of life. (3)
In today’s article, we will explore the research behind curcumin’s ability to help IBD treatment, including both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Turmeric for IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
One randomized, double-blind study containing 89 participants with quiescent ulcerative colitis (UC) tested curcumin’s ability to serve as maintenance therapy. There were two groups of patients: 45 individuals consumed 2g of curcumin per day in a split dosage, and a placebo group.
The results showed that curcumin was not only a safe, natural medication, but it greatly reduced the frequency of relapse in people with ulcerative colitis. Turmeric also suppressed morbidity linked to UC, improving the patient’s overall health. (4, 5)
Mesalamine is a popular drug used to treat ulcerative colitis. While it can be useful on its own, one team of researches sought to test the efficacy of treatment by pairing it with turmeric.
This study was also placebo-controlled and double-blind. It contained a total of 50 patients with mild-to-moderate UC who were currently treating with mesalamine. The results using both mesalamine and curcumin were quite convincing. Here is the summary.
- Using the intention-to-treat analysis, 53.8% of the curcumin group achieved clinical remission at week 4 of the study. In the placebo group, none of the participants achieved remission.
- The curcumin group also saw a 65.3% clinical response rate vs. just 12.5% in the placebo group. Clinical response refers to the measure of various indicators of therapeutic efficacy.
- Lastly, the curcumin group saw a massive 38% of patients reach complete endoscopic remission, while none of the placebo group achieved the same. Endoscopic remission means there are no visual signs of IBD in the intestines.
Further research reviewed curcumin as it pertained explicitly to anti-inflammation in IBD. While IBD is not fully understood, it’s thought to be primarily driven by the upregulation of inflammatory cytokines.
In recent years, research has found that curcumin induces positive changes in the body’s cytokine profiles. This benefit makes it a strong candidate for the natural treatment of IBD symptomology. (7)
Another open-label study conducted administered curcumin to five patients with Crohn's disease and five with ulcerative proctitis. All of the patients with ulcerative proctitis demonstrated significant improvements. Additionally, four out of the five test subjects with Crohn’s disease improved their condition.
Although human trials are the most reliable for our purposes, sometimes animal studies yield exciting results. One such study used curcumin on rats with acetic acid-induced colitis.
The results of the research were promising. The rats showed improvements in healthy weight gain and a reduction in IBD-related symptoms. The researchers concluded that turmeric might help lower oxidative stress associated with inflammatory bowel disease. (9)
Typically, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) gets treated with antibiotics, steroids, and immunomodulators. The reason why curcumin and other herbal medicines have become a focal point of research is due to the long-term adverse side effects of traditional, treatment methods.
It’s not just turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties that help control IBD. Curcumin can reduce free radicals, increase antioxidant capacity, and influence several signaling pathways. (12)
Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Curcumin for IBD Symptoms
Does turmeric help inflammatory bowel disease? The answer appears to be, yes, in some individuals. Remember, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease will cause chronic and relapsing inflammation in the gastrointestinal system.
Curcumin not only demonstrates potent antioxidant properties, but it also attacks the very foundation of inflammation by inhibiting several inflammatory processes. (13)
As always, take precaution and consult with your doctor or primary care physician to see if a curcumin supplement fits within your current regimen. A certified medical professional can help you with the proper dosage recommendations based on the severity of your condition.