Ulcerative Colitis and what you could do

Ulcerative Colitis and what you could do
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which the lining of the colon or the large intestine becomes inflamed and leaky. Though this disease can affect anyone, it is most likely to affect people between the ages of 15-30. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this disease as of now.

The ulcers and inflammation of the inner lining of the colon develops due to an abnormal reaction of the immune system. The inflammation generally begins from the rectum and can affect a few parts of the colon or it could affect the whole colon.

Normally, the epithelium, which covers the alimentary canal, acts as a barrier and prevents toxins, pathogens and antigens from entering the gut. But when you develop ulcerative colitis, this epithelium becomes leaky and allows bacterial products and undigested food particles to enter the gut and nutrients and water to leak out, leading to fluid loss and diarrhoea.

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis can be both digestive and non-digestive in nature. There can be heavy bleeding and in serious cases it could lead to sepsis.

Digestive symptoms

•   Lower abdominal pain and cramping
•   Gas and bloating
•   Diarrhoea, sometimes bloody, with or without mucus
•   Urgent bowel movement

Non-digestive symptoms

•   Weight loss
•   Brain fog
•   Fatigue
•   Anemia
•   Eye inflammation causing redness, swelling, irritation, or blurred vision
•   Arthritis or joint pain
•   Nodules and/or ulcers in the skin
•   Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), which is inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts
•   Haemorrhoids

The thing about ulcerative colitis is that one cannot pinpoint a particular or a definitive cause. According to case studies and research, the disease is most likely caused by an inappropriate immune response or when it overreacts.

Temporary inflammation is a natural response caused by your immune system to any harmful foreign particles. But an inappropriate immune response takes place when the system attacks something not dangerous or overreacts. This creates excessive inflammation which turns chronic. In colitis, the immune system turns on itself and attacks the lining of the colon or rectum.

This inappropriate response by the immune system could be due to environmental factors, imbalances in the gut microbiome, or genetics.
So how does one deal with ulcerative colitis? With no cure in sight, the best that we can do is manage and control the symptoms. Basically, this involves making significant changes in your diet and lifestyle.

What you can do -

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet- People should consume less heavy fibre, and focus on foods with omega 3 fatty acids like walnuts, flax seeds, hemp and chia seeds along with oily fish as this helps in inflammation. Fats like olive oil and a good quality cold pressed oil. For protein, plant-based is best till you feel better. If you are keen to eat non-vegetarian foods, include them after a period of 4 months. And finally, drink plenty of fluids, especially water. In many cases, following an ulcerative.

Take probiotics to improve gut health  Foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, kefir (non-dairy, kanji and quick pickles.

Include anti-inflammatories and anti-microbial like curcumin as supplements – Natural products containing curcumin are known to tame inflammation.
Reduce stress so as to lower inflammation levels in your body – Breathwork, meditation, yoga and a good night’s sleep should ensure that.

Take in some sunlight – Vitamin D has been linked to a leaky gut. So sun exposure should increase vitamin D levels in the body. It will also help in syncing the body to the circadian rhythm, thus ensuring better sleep at night and lower stress levels.  

If you do have ulcerative colitis, it would help if you paid attention to what you are eating. It is especially important to identify the foods that could trigger an attack. This is the only way you can stay in remission, having a good ulcerative colitis diet plan is the key to recovery.

There are some food items that you should definitely avoid. The list is long and includes, spicy food, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, whole grain cereal (in some cases) and bread, gluten, dairy products, dried beans, peas, and legumes, high-fibre food, red meat, nuts, seeds, raw fruits and vegetables and refined sugar and sugary products.

Despite there being no cure for this disease, as we have said earlier, there is no reason we cannot lead a fairly healthy life by managing the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. All that it takes is for us to eat a nutritious diet and avoid foods that could trigger a flare-up.

During a flare-up, a low-residue diet is generally prescribed. By low-residue I mean foods need to be assimilated completely with no reside leftover for the colon to handle. This basically means a diet slightly low in fibre, which is aimed at resting the bowels. Focus on protein: either plant-based or non- vegetarian (non-vegetarian protein is better kept down in a flare up), vegetables, some carbs: mainly white rice.
Of course, sometimes it may not be possible to manage the symptoms and you may have to take recourse to surgery, in which a part of the colon is removed. In extreme cases, where the symptoms are very severe, there is a risk of getting colon cancer.

Some practical tips if you have ulcerative colitis

•   Eat 4 to 6 small meals in a day
•   Stay hydrated
•   Grill, steam, boil or poach your food
•   Keep a food journal to track foods that may lead to a flare-up
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