Nicotine and IBD

The first year or two following my diagnosis of ulcerative colitis was filled with an enormous amount of trial and error with not only medications but alternative therapies as well. My mom was especially interested in exploring anything and everything possible to help control my disease since I was having very little luck keeping my IBD in remission. I tried chugging aloe Vera juice multiple times a day, probiotics and a bunch of other natural supplements, and like many IBDers I also tried a wide range of specialized diets.

When nothing seemed to help keep my ulcerative colitis in check, my mom who is also the researcher of my family started searching around to see if there was something else that could potentially be the answer. It brought about a conversation with my doctor about the use of nicotine to treat patients who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease.


Looking back on this part of my life, I found this to be an interesting topic. I remember bits and pieces of conversations I had with my parents about trying to introduce nicotine into my body to see if it would offer some relief. I was desperate to try anything, as were my parents; although I know the whole idea of attempting to use a nicotine patch to get their 14 year old daughters’ body adjusted to this particular drug seemed pretty out there.

Studies show that while nicotine may be beneficial for patients who suffer from ulcerative colitis, the opposite is true for those who have Crohns disease. It can have disastrous effects. Right around the time when my parents, doctors and I were semi toying around with idea, my diagnosis changed to indeterminate colitis (meaning, it was too difficult to tell if I had ulcerative colitis or Crohns disease) so this treatment option was thrown out the window.

I am not sure how I feel about using nicotine as a way to treat patients who suffer from ulcerative colitis. On one hand, I am all for giving a patient anything possible to help alleviate their symptoms, limit the number of hospitalizations, and decrease pain so they can hopefully have the best quality of life possible. But on the other hand, ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that also comes with the risk of colon cancer. And how do you know how long the nicotine could potentially keep you in remission for?

The research between nicotine and ulcerative colitis is ongoing and I really hope that it continues. It makes me feel very hopeful when I see studies being conducted on the use of some of these alternative ways of alleviating these oftentimes debilitating symptoms that people who suffer from IBD experience. My only concern is the addictive component of it. I would just hate to hear someone who is on this type of therapy and then it suddenly stops working, only for that person’s body to be dependent on nicotine and still either require other medications to manage their IBD or potentially need surgery.

I am absolutely not an expert on this area whatsoever. I love hearing and exploring any form of treatment that could allow someone to increase their quality of life. If I wasn’t diagnosed with indeterminate colitis around the time when this conversation took place with my parents and doctors, and I was a little older, this is something I would explore. I would ask my doctor a ton of questions. But like I said, the fact that these other options are out there gives me hope.

There are so many treatments that we don’t know about. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are so individual that it is really worth exploring anything that makes sense to you.