Can Antioxidants Treat Crohn’s?

Can antioxidants treat Crohn’s? Learn the basics about antioxidants and IBD.

Research on Antioxidants and IBD

In recent years, it has become common knowledge that antioxidants are good for your health. Foods like blueberries, goji berries, and dark chocolate have gained fame as antioxidant-rich foods. The antioxidants that these foods contain inhibit oxidation in the body, a process that produces free radicals causing cellular damage.

Recent studies have suggested that supplementing Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) treatment with antioxidants may be beneficial, based on the close relationship between inflammation and oxidative stress. In a scientific review, researchers looked at the results of 134 papers measuring the effect of antioxidants on IBD—and in these papers, there’s evidence to suggest that antioxidants serve both a protective and therapeutic role in IBD treatment.

Because the studies on IBD and antioxidants vary widely (the antioxidants in these studies have come in many forms: functional foods, isolated nutrients, synthetic hormones, drugs, etc), the authors of the review emphasize the need for more targeted research. The process of identifying new antioxidants for IBD treatment has grabbed the attention of research teams worldwide.

Can antioxidants be used to treat IBD? Which antioxidants are the best treatment for Crohn’s? Can antioxidants help with ulcerative colitis symptoms? Learn about the findings from the scientific review below.

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The Link Between Antioxidants and IBD

IBD is a complex condition that appears to have a number of causes. Researchers believe that IBD is caused by a combination of environmental factors, genetic susceptibility, and both immunological and psychological factors. In all cases, IBD is characterized by an immune response: inflammation.

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the process of oxidation in the body’s cells. Although it’s common to refer to an entire food as an antioxidant (i.e. cacao is an antioxidant), the word antioxidant actually refers to the property of substances within the food. For example, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and melatonin are all known to exercise powerful antioxidant activity.

What is Oxidative Stress?

While oxidation is a natural process, oxidative stress (OS) can occur when there’s are too many oxidants for the amount of antioxidants in the body. When this happens, too much oxidation occurs, releasing free radicals that can damage cells.

Oxidative Stress and IBD

Researchers have observed that the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a major source of pro-oxidants (causing oxidation). These are a byproduct of the microbes, ingredients in food, and immune cells that are present in the GI tract. Several recent studies have found that higher levels of pro-oxidants in the GI tract is a risk factor for IBD. Likewise, other studies have found that patients already diagnosed with IBD have decreased antioxidant activity, both while the disease is active and while in remission.

Antioxidant Supplements for IBD

Antioxidants come in many forms. Researchers have examined the effects of many different antioxidants on IBD, including:

  • Resveratrol (a substance found in the skin of grapes and berries)
  • Curcumin (found in turmeric)
  • Proanthocyanidin (found in cranberries and grape seeds)
  • Quercetin (a flavonol found in many fruits and vegetables, especially red onion and kale)
  • Coumarin derivatives (a substance naturally occurring in a wide variety of plants including tonka bean, vanilla grass, cherry blossom, sweet woodruff, and others)
  • Spirulina (a blue-green microalga)
  • Compounds derived from cannabis (such as cannabigerol and cannabidiol)

Looking at the results of the studies on these antioxidants, the authors of the review concluded that, in general, the foods containing these natural active compounds fit very well into an IBD treatment plan.

While none of these antioxidant-rich supplements has proven to be a silver bullet, it appears that the antioxidant activity of many of these substances can help reduce the inflammation causing the symptoms of IBD.

Moura, F. A., de Andrade, K. Q., dos Santos, J. C. F., Araújo, O. R. P., & Goulart, M. O. F. (2015). Antioxidant therapy for treatment of inflammatory bowel disease: Does it work? Redox Biology, 6, 617–639.

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