Living with ulcerative colitis is a daily struggle for almost a million people in the U.S. alone. While medical treatment of ulcerative colitis continues to improve with study, there is no cure yet. But an evolving scientific understanding of how the gut works promises to improve ulcerative colitis management strategies.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease caused by an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune disorders occur when the body uses its immunity defenses to attack itself instead of focusing on external threats like viruses and bacteria. In the case of ulcerative colitis, white blood cells attack the contents and lining of the colon. Essentially, the immune system begins destroying food, gut bacteria, and your colon lining, resulting in severe inflammation and painful ulcers.
Ulcerative colitis isn’t caused by personal habits or choices—which means, unfortunately, that you can’t avoid it simply by changing your lifestyle. A gut-friendly diet and other healthy habits can, however, help you manage the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
There are multiple autoimmune diseases that affect the digestive tract and their symptoms can be similar. A proper diagnosis, through lab tests, endoscopic procedures, and CT scans, to name a few, is important in understanding treatment strategies available.
Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms
Ulcerative colitis symptoms range in severity from person to person and over time. They can even go into remission with the help of medication and management strategies. When your ulcerative colitis is in remission, you may experience no symptoms at all for months or even years.
When your ulcerative colitis flares up, you can experience several symptoms, including:
- Stomach cramps
- Rectal bleeding
- Frequent and urgent need to poop
- Unintended weight loss
- Loss of energy
- Nutritional deficiencies
How Gut Health and Your Microbiome Impact Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis can be a particularly nefarious ailment. It doesn’t just cause sufferers pain, it also prevents the digestive system from absorbing important nutrients that the body needs. The failure of critical nutrient absorption can severely affect a sufferer’s well-being and overall health.
To further complicate matters, ulcerative colitis stimulates the body’s white blood cells to attack the gut’s good bacteria, worsening the digestive tract’s ability to function properly. In recent years, the role of gut health and a well-balanced microbiome in ulcerative colitis have received increased scientific attention. Health professionals are beginning to understand how important your body’s microbiome is in ulcerative colitis and your overall function.
When it comes to the microbiome in your gut, a balance of good and bad bacteria work to optimize digestive function. Ulcerative colitis prevents the good bacteria from doing its job, which causes a whole host of other issues that affect everything from mental clarity to hormone regulation.
Living with Ulcerative Colitis
Your experience with ulcerative colitis may present as a rollercoaster of flare-ups and remissions. When you’re in remission, you’ll want to adopt a lifestyle that prevents flare-ups, and when you’re experiencing a flare-up you’ll want to learn management strategies that shorten its duration.
Often, medical intervention is required to manage all the stages of ulcerative colitis; severe cases may require surgery. Corticosteroids are frequently used in treating moderate to severe cases of ulcerative colitis. Unfortunately, these medications can have negative side effects of their own.
A holistic approach is often the most beneficial way to manage ulcerative colitis. In developing a diet that helps alleviate your symptoms, it’s important to prioritize foods that provide the nutrition you need without making a flare-up worse.
- Flare-Up Foods to Eat: Low-sugar canned and sauced fruits, cooked vegetables, salmon and other lean meats, peanut butter and other nut butters, rice, and other white grains.
- Flare-Up Foods to Avoid: Sugary foods, ripe fruit (except bananas), raw vegetables, fiber-dense breads, processed meats, fried food, and spicy food.
As far as drinks go, try to avoid alcohol, fruit juices with pulp, and coffee. Instead, opt for water and drinks with electrolytes. When ulcerative colitis is in remission, you’ll be able to tolerate a broader variety of food and drinks, though it will always be important that you avoid foods that can cause irritation.
- Remission Foods to Eat: Whole grain breads, oats, nut butters with healthy fats, brown rice, fish, lean meats, and eggs.
- Remission Foods to Avoid: Fried and fatty food, spicy food, overly fibrous food, and other foods that can irritate your stomach.
Talk to a dietician for help managing your ulcerative colitis—what works for some people may not work for others. For example, yogurt provides an excellent source of probiotics, but if you’re lactose intolerant, yogurt isn’t going to be gentle on your digestive tract.
Managing Ulcerative Colitis with Probiotics
Ulcerative colitis sufferers struggle to maintain a healthy gut because their white blood cells attack their good gut bacteria. In recent years, probiotics have been increasingly noted for their help in treating ulcerative colitis.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that grow in your gut and help the digestive process. They can be ingested through food or as supplements to maintain or restore your microbiome balance. For people living with ulcerative colitis, supplements like Jetson’s Gut Recovery can be a great addition to a restricted diet. Prioritizing gut health is important for everyone, especially those who struggle with disruptive digestive diseases.