Recent statistics show that over 70 million Americans suffer from digestive issues. One of the most common? Ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation and sores to form along the inside lining of the colon. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis happen gradually over time, and may have severe consequences if left untreated.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis can vary widely among people, and can range from mild to severe. Some of the most common symptoms of UC, though, include:
- Bloody diarrhea or stool
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Rectal pain and bleeding
- An urgency to have a bowel movement
- Trouble with emptying the bowels
- Weight loss
- Inability to grow and thrive in children
What are the complications of ulcerative colitis?
If left untreated, ulcerative colitis may affect several systems in the body, leading to issues that include the following:
- Severe bleeding
- A perforated colon
- Severe dehydration
- Liver disease
- Inflammation of the skin and eyes
- Increased risk of colon cancer
- Swelling of the colon
- Increased risk for clots in the arteries
How is ulcerative colitis treated?
Ulcerative colitis can become not just debilitating; it can lead to life-threatening complications without proper care and medical intervention. While there is no definitive known cure for this condition, proper care and treatment can bring about a significant reduction in symptoms and can cause remission in some cases.
Treatment for ulcerative colitis can involve a number of interventions. Options to discuss with a healthcare professional include the following...
1. SulfaÂ drugs
Sulfa drugs, such as:
- Mesalamine, and
are most commonly used to treat ulcerative colitis.
These are taken in tablet or suppository form, and they are designed to curb inflammation in the bowels. Talk to your doctor if you are allergic to sulfa, as this could cause a host of other symptoms that could further complicate your healing.
If these drugs are not an option, the following may work instead...
Corticosteroids are human-made medications that are designed to work in the body similarly to the naturally occurring hormone cortisol. Importantly, this hormone plays a key role in regulating inflammation.
Not a long-term solution
Corticosteroids were designed to reduce inflammation quickly. However, they are not a good long-term solution for treatment, as their long-term use can cause side effects and health consequences.
Another form of therapy that may work includes the following...
Drugs such as:
- Cyclosporine, and
help to suppress unnecessary immune system responses that could be triggering bowel inflammation. As a result, they can help the immune system to function more efficiently. When taking these drugs, the digestive system is allowed to begin healing with out the threat of antibodies attacking the process of cellular renewal and repair.
However, because these drugs suppress the immune system, they do make people more susceptible to infections.
Of course, medications are only one part of a holistic treatment plan; such a plan would also include the following...
4. Foods rich in fiber
For those wishing to reduce their symptoms more naturally, there are some diet changes that can be implemented to restore gut health. Some nourishing, soothing foods that you can incorporate into your diet fiber-rich foods.
What are some fiber-rich foods?
Foods rich in fiber help to clean out the digestive tract more effectively. These foods include:
- whole grains,
- broccoli, and
If you have a narrowing or a deformity of the intestine, however, you may have to avoid these foods. Why? Because they will cause additional cramping and stomach upset.
Another dietary change to consider is the following..
5. Quality proteins
Lean sources of protein that are also minimally processed are good choices for reducing UC symptoms.
What are some protein-packed foods?
Choose foods like:
- tofu, and
to keep your protein supply high and your inflammation at bay.
Be sure to balance out your meals with the following...
6. Fruits and veggies
These foods should be the foundation of your diet---try to eat as many colors as you can.
What veggies are good for UC?
Some vegetables that people with UC generally tolerate well include:
- green beans,
- cucumbers, and
What fruits are good for UC?
Some fruits that people with UC generally tolerate well include:
- (peeled) apples,
- honeydew melons, and
If you find that peels and seeds irritate your colon and cause symptom flare-ups, remove them before eating.
As you plan your meals, make sure to include the following...
7. Foods rich in calcium
Calcium has a soothing effect on the lining of both the stomach and the bowels.
How many servings do you need?
Aim for 2 servings daily of calcium-rich foods for anti-inflammatory benefits.
What are some good sources of calcium?
Greens, yogurt, milk, and kefir are all excellent sources of calcium.
The following UC-fighting solution can be taken in either food or supplement form...
Probiotics help to balance the good vs. bad bacteria in the gut. Imbalances in bacteria are what cause inflammation to occur in the first place; therefore, introducing foods that contain probiotics will help you begin the process of reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
What foods contain probiotics?
Incorporate these foods into your regular rotation:
In severe cases of UC, the following may be necessary...
More severe cases of ulcerative colitis will require surgical interventions.
While these procedures are known to be effective, they come with risk of complications. It is best to get a second opinion if you discover that surgery may be the only option to reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
What is the surgery like?
Most surgical procedures aimed at reducing symptoms of UC involve removing part or all of the colon and rectum. In these cases, a patient would have to wear a stoma, or pouch, on the body at all times to collect waste as it accumulates. Wearing a device like this comes with potential risks and complications, and a decision to undergo surgery for ulcerative colitis should not be taken lightly.
It is important to know all of the risks and benefits associated with such a procedure, and to make your decision only after thorough examination of all factors has taken place.
The following dietary add-ons are worth discussing with your doctor or licensed dietitian...
10. Herbs and supplements
More and more people are looking for nontraditional treatments to enhance their existing treatment.
While some are not founded on research and solid evidence of their efficacy, there are some non-traditional methods of treatment that are rising in popularity, for many attest to their effectiveness.
What are some good UC-fighting supplements?
There are herbs and supplements that, when taken as directed by your doctor, can be quite effective in reducing symptoms of UC. Some of these supplements include:
- Aloe vera juice
- Tormentil extract
- Wheatgrass juice
Talk to your doctor before beginning an herbal supplement, as it may have an interaction with prescription medications you may be taking.
The following UC treatment is something everyone should be doing...
Exercise is a great way to keep food and undigested matter moving through your colon. In fact, studies show that moderate levels of exercise performed 3 to 4 days a week helps to release protective myokines to promote healing and reduce inflammation in the bowels.
Benefits of yoga
Yoga is also an excellent treatment for UC, as it promotes relaxation and helps to reduce inflammation. If you don't currently have an exercise routine set up, take it slow when you start, as too much activity and sore muscles can lead to additional systemic inflammation.
The best exercise of all?
What's most important is to create a schedule and find a workout that works for you. Whether that be walking, running, cycling, swimming, or something else, what's important is that you get moving and stick to it.
The following UC treatment is critical, although it's easier said than done...
12. Reduce stress
Stress plays a giant role in the development of ulcerative colitis and other digestive diseases. Not to worry--you can counteract stress by practicing deep breathing, relaxation, and meditation techniques for a few minutes daily. Results will be experienced and felt soon after you implement these practices into your routine.
Fun de-stressing activities
Other activities that may help you de-stress include:
- Drinking a warm beverage
- Going for a walk or hike
- Coloring or drawing
- Watching a movie
- Talking with friends or family
Our final UC treatment is easy enough to find at your local pharmacy...
13. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
Omega-3 fatty acids are very effective at lubricating the lining of the colon and helping to reduce inflammation in the body. Talk to your doctor and get advice on which supplements and doses will be most effective in treating your symptoms.
Take control of ulcerative colitis today!
While ulcerative colitis can bring about some major discomfort, it can be managed by following simple treatment protocols that will delay and possibly even prevent surgery. You don't have to live with this condition in pain and frustration; making a few changes to your diet, exercise, and lifestyle regime will bring about beneficial and lasting results.