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Colitis is a chronic disease that causes inflammation of the large intestine and may also cause ulcerations in the intestinal lining, leading to periods of abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and fever. Approximately 3.3 million people in the US suffer from colitis. The disease is more common in Northern countries of the world and most commonly occurs between the ages of 15 and 25 years.
These are the most common symptoms of colitis:
How is It Diagnosed
Medications are often the treatment of choice for colitis. Treatment aims are:
Most commonly prescribed medications
Acupuncture is a form of ancient Chinese medicine in which very fine needles are placed at specific points along the body. According to acupuncture practitioners, there are meridians upon the surface of the skin through which flow qi or life energy and which connect directly to the internal organs. When the body is healthy, the qi is balanced and flows evenly through the meridians, balancing and cleansing. When the body is unhealthy, the flow of energy becomes blocked. The placement of acupuncture needles is believed to unblock the energy and revitalize the organs. Studies have shown some promise with the use of acupuncture for the treatment of colitis.
Biofeedback is a neuromuscular re-education tool that is used to assess certain bodily processes. This therapy uses a computer to display bodily functions that you are not usually aware of such as blood pressure and heart rate. These functions are picked up by special sensors, measured and displayed as graphs or sounds so that you can recognize elevated or abnormal responses and learn how to modify them using breathing techniques and or visualization.Companion Conditions
Maintaining a Healthy Body pH
Every single cell throughout your body needs oxygen to breathe. How well it fulfills this task depends on how you maintain a healthy blood pH level. An optimal level is about 7.4. This is a slightly alkaline level and is vital for several major body functions including fat digestion, blood circulation, cell and nerve functions and bone density. If the pH level drops too low, this causes red blood cells to clump together, slowing down blood flow, which means less oxygen is circulating throughout your body and overall performance is slowed and weakened. When your blood pH is at an optimal level, it means that you can burn a greater amount of energy while requiring less oxygen. Keeping your pH level balanced is particularly important if you suffer from colitis because it can help you maintain remission. If your blood pH decreases suddenly it may contribute to a flare-up. Detoxifying your body on a regular basis helps to maintain a pH level around 7.4. If you suffer from colitis your body may already be overloaded with toxins and this could hold your pH level down. Here are some tips on how to rebalance and maintain a healthy blood pH level.
Stress Reduction – Although stress does not cause colitis, it can dramatically worsen your symptoms. Try to keep your stress level to a minimum.
Regular Sleep – Many people tend to take sleep for granted, that is until they are suffering from insomnia. There are a number of steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing a sleep disorder:
Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Nutritional therapy plays a crucial role in the management of colitis. Focusing on nutrition as a means of reducing flare-ups and lengthening periods of remission is not as complicated as it may seem. A substantial number of studies have shown that colitis can be managed relatively easily by simply modifying your daily diet. Because many sufferers are deficient in a number of nutrients, dietary modification can also help to create a more nutritionally efficient diet as well as reducing inflammation and other symptoms.
The cells that make up the lining of the colon require regular nutrients in order to maintain a high immunity barrier. Mike Adams, The Health Ranger, explains that one of the most important nutrients for this purpose is the amino acid l-glutamine. Aloe Vera is rich in l-glutamine and so can enhance cell regeneration throughout the intestinal lining. This can help to prevent ulcerations and fissures caused by ulcerative colitis and also help to prevent leaky-gut syndrome in which harmful toxins pass from the intestines into the bloodstream.Antioxidants
Antioxidants help to combat the negative effects of free radicals on the body, preventing them from causing cellular, genetic and tissue damage. They are beneficial for colitis sufferers for a number of reasons. Supplementing the diet with antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E, and flavonoids can help to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. Adding foods rich in antioxidants to your diet can also ease the stress on your digestive system and promote healthy absorption of nutrients.B-12
If you suffer from colitis your body will not be able to absorb an adequate amount of nutrients from food. A deficiency of vitamin B-12 will slow down the overall function of your gastrointestinal tract. The recommended daily allowance for B-12 is 2.4 micrograms. If you are taking an iron supplement, take it at the same time. A B-complex supplement also includes folic acid. This may discolor your urine slightly as most of it is secreted. Natural food sources of vitamin B-12 include liver, clams, haddock, trout, yogurt, tuna, milk, cured ham and eggs.
Bromelain is a combination of protein-digesting enzymes extracted from the pineapple plant. It has been found useful for treating digestive disorders because it decreases the number of cytokines that cause inflammation of the colon. A recent study conducted by researchers at Duke University showed that pineapple extract shows a lot of promise for reducing inflammation in cases of colitis.Butyrate
Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid. It encourages the production of friendly microbacteria in the intestinal tract and has been shown to be effective in the treatment of colitis. Butyrate taken as an oral tablet appears to reduce intestinal inflammation caused by this disorder. It has no reported side effects.
Calcium primarily functions in the formation of strong teeth and bones, and is vital for the proper absorption, storage, and metabolic functions of vitamins A, C, D, and E, phosphorus, and magnesium. It is required for muscle contraction and relaxation and is needed for the activation of enzymes. Natural food sources include Brazil nuts, almonds collard greens, broccoli, oats, parsley, cheese, molasses, salmon, sardines, sesame seeds, prunes and cabbage.
Carotenoids are the red and yellow pigments in fruits and vegetables, some of which are converted to vitamin A in the body. They include vegetable-derived nutrients such as lutein, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin and lycopene. They protect against many forms of cancer and other degenerative diseases and also have antioxidant properties which means that they help reduce inflammation. Beta-carotene is the best source of vitamin A.
DHEA is a hormone that occurs naturally in the human body. DHEA inhibits the production of TNF-alpha, the cytokine linked to inflammation in colitis. It also protects the body against the toxic effects cytokines. The daily suggested intake for people suffering from colitis is 100-200mg. If you are considering taking a DHEA supplement you should discuss proper hormone blood testing with your physician.
Enzymes are vital for healthy digestion. According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, M.D., editor of Health and Healing, unfortunately, many adults don't have enough of them. This is largely due to the high amount of processed food in today’s Western diets. Although enzymes are abundant in raw fruit and vegetables, cooking and food processing methods destroys them. Furthermore, after age 35, enzyme production in the stomach, small intestine and pancreas gradually begins to decline. As well as aiding digestion, enzymes also help to maintain a healthy autoimmune system, eradicate inflammation, remove toxins from the blood and repair damaged tissue. You can obtain more digestive enzymes from your diet by adding raw fruit and vegetables. There is also a wide range of digestive enzyme supplements on the market that can benefit colitis sufferers.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are vital components of every single cell in your body. Cells need a regular supply of EFAs in order to function optimally. Your body does not produce them naturally so it is important to ensure you are obtaining enough of them from your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation caused by colitis by balancing out the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. You can increase your daily intake of essential fatty acids by adding the following foods to your diet: salmon, almonds, walnuts, dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and cabbage, whole grains and olives. You can also add an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to your diet. The suggested daily dosage for an adult is 1000mg. Essential fatty acids can be taken as a supplement in the form of fish oils, cod liver oil and flax oil. Dr. Joseph Mercola, founder of the National Wellness Center, recommends a fish oil supplement to help reduce the symptoms of colitis and also to reduce the patient’s need for steroid therapy.Folate (Folic Acid)
Folic acid is vital for the production and maintenance of new cells. Because of impaired absorption, people suffering from colitis tend to be deficient in folate. Folic acid can also help prevent certain forms of cancer and heart attacks. As a daily supplement the recommended daily intake of folate for adults is 400 micrograms. Natural food sources include oranges, lentils, lima beans, spinach, asparagus and beets.
Garlic produces allicin when it reacts with oxygen. Allicin has a number of beneficial properties: it is antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. Garlic can also reduce the cytokines that produce inflammation of the colon in colitis.
You can add raw or cooked garlic to your meals. If you don’t like the taste, garlic can be taken as a supplement. The suggested daily dosage for adults is 200mg.
Histidine is an essential amino acid that helps with growth and repair of tissue as well as the manufacture of red and white blood cells and maintenance of the myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells. Because histidine produces gastric juice in the stomach, people suffering from colitis may benefit from a supplemental form of this nutrient. If you are suffering from a folate deficiency you may also have depleted histidine levels due to increased urination. A combination of folate and histidine can remedy this situation. Natural food sources of histidine include wheat, rye, fish, chicken, turkey, beef and dairy products. The suggested daily adult dose for histidine is 1000mg taken 2-3 times daily.
Anemia due to iron deficiency is a common complication for colitis sufferers and if untreated can become severe. For this reason it is important to make sure you have an adequate iron intake in your daily diet. The recommended daily dosage of an iron supplement for adults is 8-18mg. You can also add iron-rich food sources to your diet, including liver, cockles, lean beef, shrimp, grapefruit, red kidney beans, apricots, almonds, dried figs, wheat germ, and cashew nuts.Probiotics
Probiotics are dietary supplements containing live beneficial bacteria. Taking them on a regular basis can help to replenish and rebalance the bacterial ecosystem of your gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics can also help to reduce the risk of complications that arise from colitis such and candida, gas and bloating. The usual measurement for probiotics is Colony Forming Units or CFUs. This refers to the number of live bacteria present in each serving. The typical daily dosage recommendation is 10 billion CFUs but can be up to 50 billion
Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is responsible for elimination of toxins and healthy functioning of the thyroid. It also boosts the immune system by neutralizing free radicals. It is generally depleted in colitis sufferers but it may be rebalanced by adjusting your diet to incorporate selenium-rich food or by taking a daily supplement. The recommended daily intake of a selenium supplement for adults is 50-100mcg. Natural food sources of selenium include oysters, turkey, Brazil nuts, peanuts, broccoli, tuna, spaghetti, cod, egg, hard cheese, beef, brown rice and cottage cheese.
Soluble fiber helps to maintain healthy bowel function and can help to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Along with starches, glutamine, and fish oils, fiber may all help with malnutrition in colitis sufferers. Some people with intestinal disorders do not respond to high-fiber intake so it is recommended that you begin with a small amount of soluble fiber such as psyllium husk. Psyllium comes from the crushed husk of the Plantago ovata plant. Psyllium is a very gentle, bulk forming laxative that softens stools and helps to alleviate the discomfort of constipation, hemorrhoids and speeds up the elimination of waste from the body which reduces the risk of colon cancer and helps the remission of colitis. Soluble fiber is another important natural way to beat colitis according to Dr. Joseph Mercola. He recommends a daily dose of 1-2 teaspoons dissolved in a glass of water with meals. Other fibers which can improve digestive health in colitis are oat bran and guar gum. You should drink plenty of water throughout the day if you are taking soluble fiber to avoid becoming gassy and bloated.
Spirulina is a single-cell, blue-green algae. It contains 18 different amino acids, 10 vitamins and 8 minerals. It is high in protein and gentle on the digestive tract. Because it is rich in digestive enzymes and is easy to digest, it may also be a good source of protein if you suffer from ulcerative colitis. It is also rich in antioxidants. According to the Doctor’s Health Press Board, spirulina can reduce symptoms of colitis and improve digestion
Ulcerative colitis has a strong connection to immune system disorders. In order to support a healthy immune system, you need an adequate supply of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a number of complications including depletion of bone density, osteoporosis and joint pain. Vitamin D also assists with the absorption of calcium so if you are deficient in vitamin D, you are probably also deficient in calcium. Natural food sources of vitamin D include fish, liver, eggs, fortified milk, and butter. You can also take vitamin D supplements in tablet form. The recommended adult daily intake of vitamin D is 200 micrograms
Osteoporosis can be a severe complication of colitis for both men and women. Maintaining healthy levels of vitamin K can reduce the risk of bone density loss and help prevent osteoporosis. Natural food sources of vitamin K include green leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage and spinach, asparagus, peas and plums. The suggested daily adult dose for a vitamin K supplement is 65-85 micrograms
Zinc deficiency is a common complication with colitis. Zinc is important for boosting the immune system and promoting general healing. Because zinc helps to remove free radicals from the blood stream, it is possible that supplementation may reduce inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The recommended daily allowance for adult males is 11mg and for adult females is 8mg.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata)
Boswellia acids are extracted from a tree native to India. They have anti-inflammatory properties and studies have shown that if taken over a period of six weeks, can bring about remission from colitis. Dr. Shari Lieberman, specializes in clinical nutrition and exercise psychology. She recommends using boswellia and also points out that it has few side effects compared to prescription medications and that patients may keep taking it for long periods of time, tapering down the dose when remission has been maintained for one year.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Alfalfa is a flowering plant that is a member of the pea family. The dried herb can be taken internally and eliminates toxins and bad breath as well as aiding digestion to properly break down fats, carbohydrates, protein and essential fatty acids. Because of its high fiber content, it also encourages proper bowel movements.
Black Radish (Raphanus sativus)
Black radish is an ancient vegetable of the mustard family. Its juice is extracted and used to promote liver function and bile production. It also contains a high fiber content that encourages regular bowel movements. This combination of effects can be beneficial for colitis sufferers who are experiencing Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. Studies on animals have shown that by increasing the flow of bile, black radish improves the digestive processes, specifically the digestion of fat.
Flaxseed (Linum bienne)
Flaxseed or linseed is the seed from the flax plant. It is rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acid which both help to soften and bulk the stool and facilitate the elimination of waste. Flaxseed also cleanses the colon and continued use may help prevent colon cancer. It has the added benefits of lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Jean Reinhardt-Martin’s book, Flax Your Way to Better Health, not only reveals the fascinating history behind flax, but also tells you where to find flax products and how to make your own meals with flaxseed.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger acts as an anti-spasmodic, helps prevent vomiting, and improves the tone of intestinal muscles. It also has a mild anti-inflammatory action. Ginger is available in many different forms. Though more research is currently needed, preliminary studies indicate that ginger is effective in reducing symptoms of colitis.
The juices of wheat grass and barley grass are rich in phytonutrients including high amounts of dietary enzymes, multiple vitamins and minerals and essential amino acids. Wheat and barley grass extracts can also be taken in tablet or powdered form. The recommended daily dose for an adult is 2-4 grams. These grass extracts have an increasingly popular role in the dietary regimen of those suffering from colitis. This is because of their ability to inhibit the production of cytokines that produce inflammation in this disorder.
Green tea contains catechins. These are substances known to be powerful antioxidants than can boost the autoimmune system, help fight diseases and reduce the effects of aging. Studies have shown that catechins eradicate free radicals and could therefore help reduce the inflammatory effects of colitis. Green tea may also help to reduce the risk of complications related to the liver and colon cancer.
Pancreatin is a combination of the digestive enzymes trypsin, amylase, and lipase. It is beneficial for people suffering from colitis who may have low or abnormal levels of digestive enzymes due to poor absorption of nutrients. Pancreatin helps to break down carbohydrates, fats and starches. Supplementation with pancreatic enzymes could assist with better absorption of nutrients from food. The suggested adult daily dose of pancreatin is 500mg once or twice daily directly before meals.
Peppermint (Mintha piperita)
Peppermint, particularly in combination with caraway oil, is able to soothe the muscles of the stomach and stimulate the production of bile, which the body uses to digest fats. This enables food to pass through the stomach quicker. The active ingredient extracted from peppermint oil in this case is believed to be menthol. Several studies have shown that enteric-coated peppermint capsules are beneficial for the treatment of ulcerative colitis symptoms including stomach pain, gas, bloating and diarrhea. In his book Herbs for Health and Healing, Peter Corn recommends peppermint tea blends that also include soothing herbs such as mallow and burdock root.
Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva)
Slippery elm has been used for centuries to treat boils, burns and inflammation. Dr. Alan Greene, pediatrician and natural health advocate, considers it to be beneficial for colitis because it contains mucilage. Mucilage is a substance that thickens and turns to gel when mixed with water. As it coats the lining of the intestinal tract it can reduce inflammation and reduce chronic symptoms.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
St. John’s wort is very helpful for keeping colitis symptoms under control. It contains oils that can sooth inflammation and relax the lining of the colon. St. John’s wort may be given as an enema. Though animal studies have shown this herb to be effective, human studies are required.
Turmeric (Curcuma domestica)
Turmeric is a tropical plant of the ginger family. In Eating Well For Optimum Health, Andrew Weil describes how the active ingredient, curcumin, has been extracted from the dried root and used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and how beneficial it is for reducing inflammation in colitis. The suggested daily dose for adults is between 180-500mg taken in 3-4 doses.