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Digestive troubles, stomach pain, and embarrassing bathroom “issues” can be due to many different causes.
Illness… diet choices… unknown food allergies…
Even stress can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal system!
One of those causes could be ulcerative colitis, a lesser-known but surprisingly common condition.
Let’s take a look at some of the tell-tale signs of ulcerative colitis, plus some of the alternative medicines and treatments that can get your digestive system back on track.
What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic bowel disease that leads to inflammation and sores, known as ulcers, in your digestive tract.
Typically, ulcerative colitis affects the lining of your large intestine, particularly your colon and rectum.
As with other digestive issues, living with ulcerative colitis can be quite challenging.
- Digestive issues may make it difficult for you to leave the house, or even want to.
- Relationships, especially romantic ones, can be harder to maintain, especially if you’re embarrassed by your GI concerns.
- On the days that your symptoms are particularly severe, going to work or school may be almost impossible. If you do go, ulcerative colitis symptoms may negatively impact your performance.
- Ulcerative colitis can lead to more serious, even life-threatening diseases, including colon cancer.
Luckily, once it’s diagnosed you can begin treating it and go back to your usual lifestyle.
Let’s go over some of the most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis so that you can receive the right diagnosis and begin a treatment plan as soon as possible.
Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms
For the most part, the symptoms of ulcerative colitis are mild to medium.
Depending on the precise location of your inflammation/ulcers, your symptoms and their severity can vary.
If you think you may have ulcerative colitis, here are some of the main symptoms to look out for.
- Abdominal pain and/or cramps
- Bloody stools
- Diarrhea, especially with blood or pus
- Inability to have a bowel movement
- Rectal pain
- Urgent need to have a bowel movement
- Weight loss
In children, a common symptom of ulcerative colitis is “failure to thrive,” in which they are not growing or putting on (healthy) weight.
If you have ulcerative colitis, your symptoms will probably develop and worsen over time. It rarely attacks suddenly. This gives you some time to seek treatment before it significantly reduces your quality of life.
You may also experience long periods of remission, during which you remain symptom-free.
Causes of Ulcerative Colitis
Now you know how you may feel if you have ulcerative colitis, but what causes it to develop in the first place?
For now, the exact cause of ulcerative colitis is not known, although researchers do have some ideas.
Your immune system is responsible for fighting off any invaders. But if your immune system is overactive or malfunctions, it can attack healthy cells, such as those in your digestive tract. This could cause the inflammation and ulcers associated with ulcerative colitis.
There could also be a genetic factor involved. If you have family members with ulcerative colitis, you’re more likely to develop the disease yourself.
At one time, researchers looked into the possibility of diet choices and/or stress leading to ulcerative colitis. However, these are no longer thought to be direct causes, although they can aggravate symptoms.
How to Treat Ulcerative Colitis
At the moment, there is no cure for ulcerative colitis. However, with proper care and treatment, you can manage and even alleviate its symptoms.
There are several approaches you can take.
- Manage specific symptoms, such as diarrhea or anemia, as they come up.
- Take preventive measures to avoid flare-ups and promote remission.
- Encourage the proper functioning of your immune response, so that your body won’t attack its healthy digestive tract cells.
While some people who suffer from ulcerative colitis choose medication or surgery, there are less invasive ways to manage your disease.
Let’s look at some of these alternatives.
Support Your Immune Health
As we mentioned earlier, ulcerative colitis can be largely due to an overly active immune system.
If your immune system is working properly, it will only attack harmful bacteria, invaders, or cells. And once it’s done its job, it will stop attacking, allowing your healthy cells to continue functioning properly.
So, regulating your immune system is the key, and here are some ways to do just that.
- Get enough sleep, around 7-8 hours for adults.
- Get moderate, frequent exercise. 30 minutes, 5 times per week, is ideal.
- Eat a balanced, nutritional diet.
- Reduce stress (more on that later!).
- Avoid drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products.
Take Care of Your Gut
Gut health and ulcerative colitis go hand in hand, with one big connection: your immune system.
Over 80% of your immune system is found in your gut. If your gut is healthy, your immune system is likely to be healthy, too.
This allows pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria to thrive while crowding out the beneficial (“good”) bacteria.
Taking a quality probiotic supplement, such as our favorite, Just Thrive Probiotic, can get your gut health back on track.
Unlike some of the other probiotics on the market, this supplement is guaranteed to arrive in your digestive tract 100% alive and ready to work.
And once inside your gut, the superstrains join forces with your existing colonies of beneficial bacteria, turning the tables on once-thriving pathogenic bacteria, rebalancing your gut microbiome, boosting your immune system, and reducing digestive symptoms—including those caused by ulcerative colitis.
It even helps your body absorb nutrients, which are quickly depleted when you experience one of the most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis, diarrhea.
Choose the Right Foods
While there isn’t a specific ulcerative colitis diet, your food choices can either alleviate or intensify your symptoms.
In general, if you’re currently experiencing the GI issues associated with ulcerative colitis, soft, bland foods will feel better than spicy or high-fiber foods. If you’re lactose intolerant, it’s more important than ever to avoid dairy foods (and the symptoms they bring on).
To better manage your symptoms, here are some of the foods you might want to avoid.
- Carbonated drinks
- Dairy products
- Foods and drinks high in sugar
- Greasy foods
- High-fiber foods
These foods can vary from person to person. If you’re not sure which ones affect you the most, keep a journal of meals and symptoms to find a link between them.
Also, one of the side effects of ulcerative colitis is diarrhea. This can have a negative impact on your ability to absorb nutrients, including protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. And, diarrhea can also lead to dehydration.
For that reason, it’s crucial that you drink plenty of water and choose nutrient-rich foods in order to stay healthy and reduce symptoms such as fatigue or anemia.
Although your diet choices alone won’t cause ulcerative colitis, it can bring on a flare-up or worsen existing symptoms.
Try Natural Remedies
In Eastern medicine, herbal remedies are incredibly common and come with centuries of positive results.
Here are some of the natural remedies that may help alleviate ulcerative colitis.
- Aloe vera gel, an anti-inflammatory that improves disease symptoms and encourages remission
- Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties (We recommend this curcumin supplement by Purality Health.)
- Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil and fatty fish, which can reduce inflammation
- Wheatgrass juice, which can reduce the severity of the disease and some of its more severe symptoms, such as rectal bleeding
Although they might not be entirely effective at managing symptoms on their own, when combined with other approaches they do seem to offer additional relief.
Although stress doesn’t directly cause ulcerative colitis, it can cause a flare-up or make existing symptoms worse.
On the flip side, lower stress means lower pain, too. In fact, studies show that the more relaxed you are, the higher your pain threshold, curbing some of the abdominal pain associated with ulcerative colitis.
Perhaps more importantly, mindfulness practices can reduce inflammation, one of the key components of ulcerative colitis.
Other effective stress reduction techniques include:
- Using your creative juices
- Listening to relaxing music
- Spending time in nature
- Getting a massage
- Connecting with loved ones
- Moderate exercise, for mood-boosting endorphins
Not only will these relaxation techniques help you manage your symptoms and pain, but they will also enhance your overall quality of life for a true win-win.
Like any chronic disease, a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis can feel a little scary and isolating. And the symptoms can have a deep impact.
However, there’s hope.
If you take the time to understand and manage your symptoms, you can lead a relatively normal and symptom-free life. And thanks to alternative treatments, you can do this without painful procedures, costly surgeries, or side effect-laden medications.
Take control of your ulcerative colitis, and regain control of your digestive health… and your life!
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