It shows up gradually and become worse over time. It can be mild or severe. It comes and goes. There are times when it may disappear and others when its around for weeks or even years. Ulcerative colitis is an unpredictable and difficult disease. While there is no known cure, there are natural treatments and lifestyle changes that can reduce the signs and symptoms and aid in long-term remission.
What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is defined by its continual inflammation of the lining of the colon. Its sometimes called the left-sided disease because its located in the descending colon. The most common symptoms are stomach pain, diarrhea, and blood in bowel movements. There is a risk of intense bleeding, chronic illness, damage to the colon, and cancer. Due to these severe symptoms, about 25% of people suffering from ulcerative colitis eventually require surgery.
Some traditional remedies can help bring ulcerative colitis into remission. It’s important to work with a physician to find the best treatment options. Some treatment options include drugs, including medication and surgery.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as corticosteroids, are typically the first line of action to treat ulcerative colitis. Immune system suppressors also help to reduce inflammation by reducing the action of the immune system response that triggers the inflammation. A blend of other medications may be used to manage other associated symptoms such as anti-diarrheal medications, antibiotics, and pain relievers.
Surgery can be helpful but also poses dangers. In some cases, it involves removing the entire colon. Many surgery situations call for an opening to be created in the abdomen in which stool can be passed, in other surgeries such as an ileal pouch, the need to wear a bag can be eliminated.
Natural treatments for ulcerative colitis
It can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with intense symptoms and treatments. Nori understands this and can help empower a sense of control over symptoms through diet and lifestyle change. The goal will be to create more time between flare-ups and increase symptom management, to reduce the need for surgery and coincide with medication recommended by a physician.
Certain foods and drinks can aggravate symptoms, particularly during a flare-up. Research shows that more westernized populations are at higher risk for ulcerative colitis so there may be a link between processed diets, however, there has been no specific and definitive link between a food and ulcerative. One of the best ways to discover which foods cause discomfort is to keep a journal to discover which foods are causing symptoms to worsen and how to substitute or remove them.
Common ulcerative colitis problematic foods:
- Too much fiber: fiber can be difficult to digest. Beware of too many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Avoid raw versions as needed and cook thoroughly, to help kick-start the digestion process.
- Dairy and gluten: these tend to be the top culprits of digestive problems such as gas, pain, and diarrhea. Gluten and dairy sensitivity is personal. If gluten is causing inflammation, avoid it, if dairy is the problem, either avoid it or consider taking Lactaid.
- Irritating foods and beverages (spicy, caffeine, alcohol): these irritate the lining of the gut and can increase inflammation. Track what foods cause symptoms and limit according to symptoms.
There is a strong relationship between the gut and the mind. Shifting the nervous system away from fight or flight mode, into a rest and digest place, will help improve digestive function. People with ulcerative colitis are twice as likely to suffer from depression and stress. It creates a cyclical pattern of stress, flare-up, depression/anxiety, worsening of symptoms, increased depression/anxiety, difficulty managing the flare-up and performing daily tasks of living.
Decrease stress by practicing these activities:
- Exercise: activity is helpful in managing many symptoms and complications associated with ulcerative colitis, including poor immunity, stress and mental health, and weight. Calmer and slower exercises such as yoga and thai chi promote relaxation in the digestive system and healing of the body and mind.
- Meditation: Meditation includes techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Simply taking a few minutes out of the busy day will help activate the parasympathetic system.
- Therapy: working with a therapist can help control ulcerative colitis symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help process skills to cope with pain and stress associated with flare-ups. It can ease abdominal pain and assist in controlling some body processes such as muscle relaxation.
Probiotics and natural treatment
Probiotic foods and natural supplements can be a perfect addition to medical treatment. Note that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements. Before purchasing them, check the label and research the company.
- Probiotics: healthy bacteria in the gut support health and digestion. These helpful “bugs” are also associated with an improved immune function which can help ulcerative colitis. On the contrary, too many of the unhealthy bacteria can make ulcerative colitis symptoms worse. Balance is the key.
- Herbs and supplements: Ginseng may reduce symptoms of ulcerative colitis. It has been shown to possibly lower inflammation and prevent DNA damage. Omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, flax oil, walnut oil) has shown to decrease inflammation which as a result may decrease ulcerative colitis symptoms.
Next level nourishment
Remember that stress is one of the main causes of flare-ups. If this information is overwhelming, no stress! We compiled a few easy habit changes that will help nourish your body and step you in the right direction towards decreasing your flare-ups and feeling better.
- Drink plenty of water – aim for electrolyte drinks particularly when flare-ups and diarrhea is present
- Eat small meals throughout the day instead of large, less frequent ones – these are easier to digest
- Focus on eating enough – aim for wholesome foods, however, any calories are helpful when it comes to ulcerative colitis
- Aim for lower fiber diet
- Avoid fried, spicy, and dairy filled foods
This article has been written by Lisa Booth, registered dietician and nutritionist, and co-founder of Nori Health. Content is based on her professional knowledge, and our collection of 100+ scientific research study papers.