Changing lifestyle especially diet, is today a leading cause of several health-related concerns, especially digestive issues. Recent years have seen a significant rise in the emergence of conditions like inflammatory bowel, ulcerative colitis and Crohnâ€™s disease. Let us look at one of these today â€“ Ulcerative Colitis and how we can effectively prevent its occurrence and relieve the body through simple dietary changes.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, inflammatory condition of the colon and rectum that leads to ulcers or sores in the digestive tract. This debilitating disease affects the innermost lining of the large intestine and rectum and if left untreated can gradually worsen and even lead to life-threatening complications. The inflammation of the inner lining of the intestines narrow the passage and make it harder to pass stool leading to swelling in the colon, joint pain, scarring of the bile ducts and pancreas, and intense diarrhea.
Most people experience periods of remission, while exhibiting the following symptoms that range from mild to severe during flare-ups:
- Unexplained fatigue
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea with blood or pus in stool
- Rectal bleeding
The Rise of Ulcerative Colitis
Inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis has seen a dramatic increase in its prevalence especially in societies that are rapidly westernizing. But, what could have caused a disease practically unknown just a century ago to become so widespread?
There are several changes in our internal and external environment that are increasingly contributing to the appearance of this horrible disease. Of all the changing components, animal protein appeared to be the strongest factor. The upward trend in the consumption of animal protein is thought to explain to a degree the increased incidence of ulcerative colitis.
Animal protein tends to have a higher sulphur content. This releases amino acids like methionine into the gut that is seen to play a role in the development of ulcerative colitis. The gut bacteria elaborate toxic products like hydrogen sulfide- a bacterially-derived cell poison -in response to the a high-meat diet by breaking down these amino acids.
Relieving Ulcerative Colitis Through Dietary Changes
While no known cure of ulcerative colitis is available, there are several natural ways to mitigate the symptoms of the disease and provide long-term remission. To naturally treat ulcerative colitis, it is imperative to understand that a healthy diet is the foundation. Certain foods seem to trigger inflammation in the digestive tract through an aggressive immune response. Thus, one should first pin-point these and either eliminate them from oneâ€™s diet or reduce their consumption.
Foods to Avoid
While during a flare-up, it is safest to move to a low-fiber diet and avoid problematic foods such as dairy products, spicy foods and refined sugar that are known to aggravate symptoms; the best times to think of making changes in your diet is during periods of remission. Here are some foods that are best avoided in your diet if you suffer from this inflammatory condition.
- Foods like whole-grain breads, cereals, oats, quinoa, millets, noodles, brown rice, pastas, and other whole grain starches that have high-fiber content as these are difficult to digest for people with ulcerative colitis.
- Seeds such as sesame, flax, sunflower, pumpkins and millets and all kinds of nuts as they have insoluble fibers that are tough to digest and can aggravate symptoms.
- Legumes including dried peas, beans, and lentils are high-fiber, high-protein foods and contain indigestible sugars that can cause bloating in people with ulcerative colitis.
- Fibrous fruits, both raw and dried, including berries though healthy have high fiber content.
- Fibrous vegetables, just like fruits, are also full of fiber and must be avoided, especially if raw or undercooked.
- Almost majority of people with ulcerative colitis have lactose intolerance and hence all dairy products must be avoided including butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese.
The Best Diet for Ulcerative Colitis
While ulcerative colitis may severely restrict your diet, especially during flare-ups, you can still enjoy your food. Just focus on foods and try and build in a well-balanced diet comprising safe foods such as:
- Low-fiber cereals like puffed rice, corn flakes, bread, pasta, noodles and macaroni made of refined white flour
- Well-cooked white rice
- Canned fruits and vegetables (peeled, unseeded and well-cooked)
- Pureed vegetable soups to offer vegetables in an easily-digestible way
- Tender, well-cooked lean meat, fish and poultry in small portions
- Peanut butter or low-fat dairy butter
- Olive and coconut oils
The key to a balanced and safe diet is to include the following in your diet:
- Folate-Rich Foods
This vitamin supplementation, in steamed or baked state, helps the body in repairing and making new cells and reduces the risk of colorectal dysplasia and cancer in patients with chronic ulcerative colitis.
Folate foods: Â Avocados, beets, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli and asparagus.
- Iron-Rich Foods
Include iron-rich foods to counter anemia -a major symptom of ulcerative colitis due to bloody diarrhea and bleeding ulcers- and to boost iron levels, general cellular health and maintain a healthy metabolism.
Iron-rich foods: Egg yolks, navy beans, black beans, liver, beef, spinach and Swiss chard.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseed oils carry great anti-inflammatory properties and may help tame colon inflammation.
Omga-3 foods: Herring, salmon, sardines, mackerel and black cod, as well supplements such as cod liver oil capsules.
- Probiotic Supplements
Probiotics, or the good gut bacteria that help maintain the natural pH balance within intestines, can be added to the diet to ease symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
Probiotic foods: Yogurt and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir and raw cheese.
Turmeric, or curcumin, is an excellent anti-inflammatory food and is found to be helpful in people with digestive and stomach problems.
- Other Supplements
Ulcerative colitis interferes with the bodyâ€™s ability to absorb nutrients and hence it becomes important to supplement the body adequately to ensure that it gets the necessary vitamins and minerals. Some supplements that may be helpful in combating ulcerative colitis symptoms include:
- Calcium to improve bone strength and boost hormone secretion
- Vitamin D to fight other autoimmune diseases and contribute to bone health
- Multivitamin for the necessary vitamins and minerals
- Probiotics to add good bacteria, reduce inflammation and improve immune responses
- Fish oil to combat inflammation and blocks chemical reactions
What you eat doesn’t cause or cure ulcerative colitis. The key is to remember that its your diet that plays a vital role here and keep your it healthy, balanced and on track.
Medical Disclaimer: The information and reference materials contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. Patients and consumers should review the information carefully with their professional health care provider. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians. You should consult your physician before beginning a new nutritional or fitness program.