Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an autoimmune condition referred to as a type of irritable bowel disease. People with UC experience diarrhea, blood and mucous in the stool, abdominal pain, tenesmus (feeling of incomplete evacuation), anemia, and fatigue. Unlike Crohn’s disease (the other type of IBD), lesions only occur in the colon (anus and large intestine). It is diagnosed with sigmoidoscopy and biopsy, although an endoscopy, colonoscopy, and blood work may be done to rule out other conditions.
WHY DOES ULCERATIVE COLITIS OCCUR?
The cause of UC isn’t completely understood. People with UC have a genetic predisposition, and their gut lining may have become initially irritated by stress, eating inflammatory foods, and a disturbance in the gut flora. The most important thing, from a treatment perspective, is that the disease process occurs when the body’s own immune system becomes skewed toward Th2 (instead of Th1), and starts attacking itself. Since the immune system is skewed, there is an increased number of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines (IL-4, IL-13, IL-33, TL-1A) that are released in the digestive tract. Research has also found that a deficiency in an innate (meaning from birth) immune mediator, called T-bet, is common in UC sufferers. It is this inflammation and immune system imbalance that is targeted with treatment.
HOW IS UlCERATIVE COLITIS TREATED?
Your Naturopathic Doctor will work to reduce the immune system’s hyper-activity, reduce inflammation, and re-balance Th2 and Th1. This is done with diet, lifestyle work, supplements, and herbs. In addition, your Naturopathic Doctor will use herbs and supplements to stop acute flare-ups, pain, and bleeding. Treatment can be initiated while you’re taking medications prescribed by your MD, or as an alternative therapy. Once your symptoms and immune system are under control, your ND will develop a long term diet plan that is safe for preventing flare-ups, as well as give you a plan to replenish the nutrients that you lost or weren’t absorbed during your flares.