Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and ulcers (open sores) in the innermost layers of the large intestine. UC is an inflammatory bowel disease—the general name for diseases that cause inflammation in the intestines. In UC, swelling typically occurs in the rectum and lower colon, but the inflammation can spread throughout the entire colon. The ulcers bleed and produce pus and mucus, and the inflammation causes the colon to empty frequently, resulting in diarrhea.
UC is a rare, but serious disease that affects 50 out of every 100,000 people in the United States. Although the condition most commonly affects those between the ages of 15 and 35, children and older adults may also develop the disease. UC occurs five times more frequently in those with a Jewish heritage than it does in the general population. Although most people with UC can be successfully treated without surgery, roughly 25% will need a colectomy (surgical removal of the colon).
Signs and Symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of UC include abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and may come on either very suddenly or more gradually.
Other common symptoms of UC include:
- Frequent, even continuous diarrhea
- Bloody stool
- Urgent desire to defecate
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- High fever
- Rapid heartbeat
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Joint aches
People with UC are at increased risk for malnutrition. UC can also cause a host of other problems, including arthritis, eye infections, liver disease, skin rashes, blood clots, or gallstones. Although it is not clear why such problems occur outside the colon, some researchers speculate that they may be linked to a faulty immune response.
Causes of UC
There are many theories regarding the cause of UC, but none have been proven. The most likely theory is that UC is caused by a variety of factors ranging from genetics, faulty immune system reactions, stress, environmental influences, and even diet. For example, some people are genetically at risk for UC (it runs in their family), and an infection or other toxins may stimulate inflammation of the large intestine. In some cases, stressful events or sensitivities to certain foods may trigger symptoms of UC.
- A family history of UC
- Jewish heritage, especially Ashkenazi Jews
- A diet high in sugar, cholesterol, and fat (particularly from meat and dairy products)
Diagnosis of UC is made by a physical exam as well as a series of tests. Blood tests may reveal a high white blood cell count (a sign of inflammation somewhere in the body). Stool samples may indicate whether there is bleeding or infection in the colon or rectum. Your healthcare provider may choose to conduct a colonoscopy—a procedure in which an endoscope. A colonoscopy can reveal any inflammation, bleeding, or ulcers on the colon wall. Tissue samples (biopsies) may be taken from the colon wall for examination under a microscope in order to make a definitive diagnosis of UC.
Sulfasalazine, one of the most common medications used to treat UC, is an effective means of reducing the number of UC relapses. It can deplete folic acid and other nutrients, so it is crucial to work with your naturopathic doctor to avoid nutrient deficiencies.
Some other methods of preventing UC flare-ups include:
- Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation, particularly for people with chronic stress in their lives
- Exercise may also be very helpful for those with UC
- Avoid certain foods that may aggravate symptoms of UC, including chocolate, dairy products, fats, and artificial sweeteners
- A bland, low-fiber diet is best during acute flare-ups
- Regular intake of fruits and vegetables, and lowered fat and sugar consumption when UC is not active may reduce the likelihood of flare-ups
- High intake of fluids and foods rich in magnesium and vitamin C on a regular basis may lower the risk of developing inflammatory bowel diseases
Naturopathic Treatment of UC
The naturopathic approach includes identifying what the root cause of the problem is using various testing methods such as comprehensive stool testing and blood testing and also doing an extensive intake of your symptoms.
During your initial visit to our clinic, you will undergo a comprehensive symptom intake in detail, and at the end of the visit, you will be required to do some blood and urine testing. The assessment is oriented toward determining what is impeding your body's ability to function normally. Dr. Bronner will determine which assessment tools are most helpful in establishing a treatment strategy specific to your health needs.
We may order some specialized testing in order to get all the necessary physiological information to get to the root cause of your symptoms.