Ulcerative colitis can be a painful and difficult disease to manage. There are treatments available, but there is no cure.
Fortunately, there are some complementary therapies available that can help provide significant relief to people with ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease affecting the large intestine or colon. It is one of the two most common types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). This type of inflammatory illness is associated with an abnormal response on the part of the body’s own immune system.
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America describes a flare-up of ulcerative colitis as “a chronic disease… in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucus. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon.”
People with IBD suffer from flare-ups when their immune system activates a response to bacteria, food, or other materials lingering in the intestine, as if these were invading substances. This causes a surge of white blood cells to be sent to the intestinal lining, which brings about ulceration and inflammation.
Currently, the number of individuals in the U.S. that are affected by ulcerative colitis range between 250,000 and 500,000. The estimated financial cost for health care is approximately 500 million dollars each year.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis
The following are the most common symptoms caused by ulcerative colitis:
- Diarrhea that could come about gradually or have a sudden onset. These loosened stools are usually bloody and accompanied by extreme urgency, abdominal pain, and cramping.
- Weight loss and loss of appetite often develop.
- Extreme tiredness and fatigue.
Natural approaches to improve symptoms and find relief
“Although the official cause of ulcerative colitis has evaded the medical community, it is important to understand that it results from an interaction of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors,” explained Benjamin Snider, N.D., a naturopathic doctor in private practice in Ontario, Canada.
As Snider explains, a holistic approach to treating ulcerative colitis should offer the best chance of relief. This holistic approach should address lifestyle, stress management, and natural supplements.
With that in mind, here are some natural complementary treatments that may provide relief of your painful symptoms:
Watch your dietary intake of trigger foods
As with most chronic conditions, there are certain foods that are consistently linked with a flare-up of symptoms and should be avoided at all costs. When it comes to IBD sufferers, these are the most common trigger foods:
- Dairy products: Many people with IBD have increased symptoms from the consumption of dairy products and are often lactose intolerant.
- Fatty foods: People with IBD often have trouble with the digestion and proper absorption of fat, which leads to it passing through the intestines and triggering symptoms.
- High-fiber foods: Food with a high-fiber content, like fresh vegetables and fruits or whole-grain foods may exacerbate IBD symptoms.
- Also, watch out for foods that are spicy, as well as caffeine and alcohol.
Get regular exercise
Exercise has been shown to be beneficial in many ways by addressing complications linked with ulcerative colitis, such as a weakened immune system, decrease in bone density, weight gain, increased stress levels, and emotional problems.
Recommended exercises include moderate-intensity biking and swimming, as well as yoga. Yoga poses aid the digestive system by gently massaging the internal organs, oxygenating the blood, and promoting relaxation.
Lower your stress levels
A 2013 study by the University of Stirling in Inverness, Scotland, found that 74 percent of IBD sufferers noticed that psychological stress increased the severity of their symptoms. Some excellent approaches to reduce your stress levels include deep breathing, relaxation techniques, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Benjamin Snider N.D. explains, “These modalities shift the nervous system away from fight or flight and into a rest and digest mode. In addition to heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate changing, blood and nutrients move into the core to support digestive function.”
Give probiotics a shot
Probiotics can provide your body with billions of “good” bacteria to help foster the proper flora in your colon.
“In fact, for mild to moderate ulcerative colitis symptoms, taking probiotics might be as effective as an anti-inflammatory medication for keeping you in remission,” said Girish Anand, M.D., a gastroenterologist with Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates in Atlanta, Georgia. He did note that additional research is needed to truly understand the full effectiveness of this approach.
Make sure to get your omega-3s
Incorporate foods in your diet that contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These omega-3 fatty acids help each symptom by reducing and preventing inflammation.
“Omega-3 fats are beneficial to patients with both UC and Crohn’s due to the strong anti-inflammatory action and ability to fuel the cells that line the intestinal tract,” said Snider.
Consider herbal remedies
Some herbs have been beneficial in the management of inflammation. Snider recommends the following herbs: curcumin (a component of turmeric), Boswellia serrata, and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) because of the strong anti-inflammatory properties they contain. Chamomile, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), and psyllium seeds may also provide relief.