Natural Treatments for Colitis & Diet
Colitis is the inflammation of mucus membranes lining the colon wall. Symptoms range from mild diarrhea to pain, bloating, gas, hard stools and the bleeding of ulcerative colitis. Although the cause of every case is not known, colitis is associated with chronic stress, antibiotic use, food sensitivities and poor dietary habits. Dietary changes and natural remedies can cure or achieve remission of this condition.
Consume only pureed foods or baby foods with added oat or rice bran during a flare-up. A large glass of water can relieve pain by flushing out particles caught in sore spots of the colon. Intravenous magnesium and B6 can control spasms by relaxing the bowel in an acute attack.
Many cases of colitis respond to a gluten-free diet, even if blood tests are negative for celiac disease. According to Shari Lieberman, Ph.D., author of “The Gluten Connection,” negative tests for celiac disease do not rule out gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a substance found in wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease is extreme gluten intolerance; even a small amount can cause severe bowel symptoms. Gluten attacks cilia in the intestines, destroying the lining of the bowel and causing malabsorption of nutrients. Milk proteins in dairy products may cause inflammation of areas damaged by gluten, so changing to a gluten-free diet should also include avoidance of dairy products, at least initially. Gluten is used in fillers, flavors and preservatives in many processed foods. Cross contamination of utensils is a problem in homes and restaurants. It is important to eliminate all sources of gluten, because a small amount triggers inflammation. Labels on products now include allergy information, including wheat. Oats are usually contaminated, unless the container says “gluten free.”
Dave Klein–a hygienic doctor, certified nutrition educator, and director of the Crohn’s-colitis Health Recovery Center–recommends a vegan raw-food diet. By avoiding cooked food, which incidentally eliminates dietary gluten, and eating only fresh, raw, and primarily organic fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, Klein says, raw foodists gain vital energy along with the healing of colitis. Transitioning to a raw diet and maintaining strict adherence takes time and support. Books and online sources provide recipes and information. Preparation of raw dishes may be done with blenders, food processors, juicers and dehydrators. Community raw pot-lucks held in most cities are a way to meet other raw-fooders and get support, and some restaurants offer raw-food menus.
According to Lieberman, diet is the most significant factor in achieving and maintaining colitis remission. Her recommendations: Keep a daily record of food consumed and symptoms experienced to determine patterns, particularly relating to yeast, wheat or dairy. Eat lots of steamed vegetables if raw veggies are not tolerated. Garlic reduces inflammation of the colon and has a healing effect. Broiled fish, skinless chicken and turkey are good protein choices. Avoid beef and pork, and eliminate hydrogenated fats. Eat a high-fiber diet of brown rice, lentils, quinoa and gluten-free oats. Eat foods that are broiled or baked, not fried. Carbonated drinks and caffeine irritate the colon. Chlorophyll is helpful to healing; use spirulina and wheatgrass supplements according to label directions. Eat fruit except between meals. Digestive enzymes such as pancreatin will aid absorption of nutrients. Vitamin B complex in a hypoallergenic form twice a day will also improve digestion, and a nondairy probiotic formula taken on an empty stomach twice a day will replace “friendly” bacteria in the bowel.
According to “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” by Phyllis Balch, CNC, Vitamin K deficiency has been linked to ulcerative colitis. Vitamin K is found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, parsley and romaine lettuce. Sulfa drugs and mineral oil deplete vitamin K.
Colitis is classified as an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Early signs of ulcerative colitis mimic symptoms of arthritis: aches and joint pain. These signs should motivate more careful dietary practices. Those with even mild or inactive colitis for more than five years should undergo regular colonoscopy, a diagnostic procedure for detection of colon cancer, as colitis increases the risk of this disease.