Ulcerative colitis is another so-called ‘autoimmune disease’ which shares many characteristics with rheumatoid arthritis, both in its development/cause and in its treatment. Although I didn’t intend to study ulcerative colitis as a disease, while researching rheumatoid arthritis over several decades I frequently came across information; data, papers, anecdotes and case studies etc., which discussed ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis appears to respond well to the types of diet and lifestyle changes I’ve made to improve my own RA symptoms on my continuing journey to full remission. With this in mind, I’m anxious to summarise in this post what I feel may be the most useful aspects of what I’ve learned, in the hope that it may be useful to those suffering from ulcerative colitis.
I’ll provide a brief takeaway summary here of the key factors which appear to lead to the development of ulcerative colitis and what I personally believe may be the most reliable way to improve the symptoms and potentially put it into remission (note: keep your physician informed when making dietary and other lifestyle changes). Then later in this post I’ll provide more detail for those who are interested. Either way, I hope I can provide you with some food for thought (pun intended) :-)
Ulcerative Colitis – Causes and Potential Cure (Permanent Remission)
Probable Causes and/or Promoters of Ulcerative Colitis
- Milk and all other dairy products.
- All types of refined oils and fats (especially trans-fats and high Omega-6 oils).
- Lack of whole-food dietary fibre, both soluble and insoluble.
- Animal protein and saturated fat.
- Omega-3 essential fatty acid deficiency and/or excess Omega-6 intake.
- Drugs, especially anti-inflammatories and antibiotics.
- Potentially; citrus fruits, gluten-containing grains (including oats), and nutritional/brewers’ yeast.
- Lack of sleep.
- Prolonged stress or anxiety.
Potential Cure (Permanent Remission) for Ulcerative Colitis
- Remove the causes listed above (working with your physician where necessary).
- Adopt a whole food plant-based diet with a raw (non-citrus) fruit component.
- Take high CFU broad spectrum probiotics.
- Regularly add turmeric to your diet (or trial a curcumin supplement).
- Consider intermittent water or (non-citrus) juice fasting.
- Take an algae-based EPA/DHA supplement each day, around 300mg total.
- Try to get around seven hours of good quality sleep every night – this needs to be a priority.
- Do your best to change the way you respond to stress and anxiety.
Based on my own accidental research into ulcerative colitis over the last thirty years or so, and in particular into more recent studies and developments; if I had UC and I took the steps listed above I would expect to see considerable improvement in my symptoms fairly quickly within a matter of weeks (or even days). I would also expect to have a fair chance of achieving full remission after some further time, perhaps six months to a year.
I’ve listed above what I believe to be the most likely causes of ulcerative colitis based on my research, and of course there are other contributing factors such as age and genetics but I wouldn’t class these as causes. All the indications are that switching to a whole food plant-based diet is the most important step to take on the road to recovery. It’s the food! :-) I’ll expand on the curative steps list, later on in this post.
There’s a vast amount of information and evidence suggesting and often demonstrating that ulcerative colitis is caused by a disease promoting diet and lifestyle, and that it can be completely reversed and healed by switching to a health promoting diet and lifestyle. If I had ulcerative colitis I would be very optimistic in my efforts to bring about full remission, based on everything I’ve learned about this disease. I’ll provide some of the reasons why below along with further resources and plenty of inspiration for those ulcerative colitis sufferers seeking a cure.
In no particular order, I’ll begin by emphasising the damage caused by meat and dairy especially when cooked at high temperatures. The ingestion of animal foods fosters the development of detrimental bacteria within our intestines. These semi-pathogenic and pathogenic bacteria damage our gut in several ways not least by the production of hydrogen sulphide (very toxic to the lining of the colon) and the suppression of our beneficial butyric acid producing friendly bacteria. Refined oils, fats and sugars contribute to this damage. Junk food (and cafe/restaurant food) manages to combine all of these damaging products into single meals such as pizzas, burgers, fish and chips, curries and all of the other standard UK diet (SUK) meals that the majority of people eat in the UK and in America (SAD), and other countries to which this junk food diet has been exported.
In the following video Dr Michael Klaper, M.D. explains why animal products (including dairy), added oils and fats, and junk ‘foods’ lead to the development of a leaky gut which can trigger the so-called ‘autoimmune response’ component of ulcerative colitis: Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease and Leaky Gut Syndrome.
The following video by Pamela A. Popper makes an important point that it’s what you remove from your diet (i.e. the causes of ulcerative colitis) that has the greatest beneficial impact, as opposed to any form of additive treatment whether natural, lifestyle or drugs based: Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohns, and Colitis.
The whole food plant-based diet and its disease reversing benefits are explained extremely well in the following video by Brenda Davis who is for me the most experienced, knowledgeable and reliable nutrition expert for those of us dealing with chronic diseases. It’s well worth watching the entire video: Defeating Disease with Whole-Food Plant-Based-Diets.
Dr Michael Greger M.D. Is a trusted resource for evidence-based lifestyle medicine. In the following series of short videos he covers; the link between hydrogen sulphide and colon damage and points out that dairy is one of the most common causes of ulcerative colitis, the preventative benefits of removing animal protein from the diet, and a possible additional treatment option in the form of wheatgrass juice.
Ulcerative Colitis and Diet – Nutritional Studies
Even though ulcerative colitis wasn’t my main area of study or research, I still read hundreds of papers on it over the years in my search for clues relating to the causes and possible treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve included a few of the most relevant papers below supporting the link between diet and UC. If you look in the right-hand column of each paper you’ll see links to similar papers (discussing various nutritional components relating to the cause, prevention and treatment of UC) providing further evidence based support for the link between diet and UC.
The following paper provides evidence of the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet in the maintenance of remission from ulcerative colitis, an important function normally achieved by the use of toxic drugs. For those who are lucky enough to be in remission this paper provides encouragement and support for the idea that you can help to maintain remission by switching to a whole food plant-based diet: An Examination of Diet for the Maintenance of Remission in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the standard UK (SUK) diet and the standard American diet (SAD) are the main cause of ulcerative colitis and many other chronic diseases, it’s the food :-) Here’s a quote from the following paper: “Diet plays a key role in IBD pathogenesis, and there is a growing appreciation that the interaction between diet and microbes in a susceptible person contributes significantly to the onset of disease.” Diet, gut microbes, and the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel diseases.
A healthy gut micro-biome is essential in the prevention of chronic disease especially in the case of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. It’s clear to me from my own research and experience that once a chronic inflammatory disease (or any chronic disease for that matter) has developed, the gut micro-biome is already severely damaged and compromised and most likely the gut is leaky.
Whilst adopting a whole food plant-based diet with plenty of fresh raw (non-citrus) fruit should be the first priority in treating ulcerative colitis (not just my opinion, the science supports this too), there are a number of adjunct treatment options which can provide substantial benefit in parallel with the WFPB diet. The addition of probiotics to the diet is one such treatment which I’ve found beneficial in my own case of rheumatoid arthritis.
The following paper demonstrates the use of probiotics in inducing and maintaining remission from ulcerative colitis: Effect of probiotics on inducing remission and maintaining therapy in ulcerative colitis.
The following meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials further supports the use of probiotics for the maintenance of remission in inflammatory bowel diseases specifically in the case of ulcerative colitis, quote: “Furthermore, probiotic treatments exhibited effects equal to mesalazine on the maintenance of remission in UC…“Probiotic treatments for induction and maintenance of remission in inflammatory bowel diseases“.
A further safe and natural treatment option for UC would be the addition of turmeric (or a curcumin supplement) to the diet. Turmeric and its proven beneficial curcumin component is a health promoting addition to a whole food plant-based diet and provides specific benefits for those suffering from ulcerative colitis.
- Curcumin in Combination With Mesalamine Induces Remission in Patients With Mild-to-Moderate Ulcerative Colitis. Quote: “Curcumin may be a safe and promising agent for treatment of UC.”.
- Curcumin has been demonstrated to be useful in experimental models of ulcerative colitis. Quote: “… analysis revealed significantly better outcomes in NCB-02 group, in terms of clinical response (92.9% vs. 50%, p=0.01), clinical remission (71.4% vs. 31.3%, p=0.03), and improvement on endoscopy (85.7% vs. 50%, p=0.04)“. NCB-02 = curcumin.
- Curcumin Maintenance Therapy for Ulcerative Colitis. Quote: “Curcumin seems to be a promising and safe medication for maintaining remission in patients with quiescent UC.”.
I mentioned in the ’causes’ list earlier in this post that a lack of dietary fibre is probably one of the main causes of ulcerative colitis and I believe this lack of fibre is a huge contributor towards the worsening of the disease. Whole plant dietary fibre provides many health benefits particularly in terms of improving our immune function, I wrote about this in more detail in this post: Dietary Fibre Benefits – Reduced Inflammation and Chronic Disease Prevention & Treatment.
There are lots of reasons why whole plant fibre is beneficial but one of the most important is that it feeds our friendly gut bacteria and in turn they produce butyric acid which helps to maintain and protect the colon’s mucous layer. When this mucosal layer breaks down the colon becomes directly exposed to pathogenic bacteria and other toxins which can lead to the development of ulcerative colitis and other colon related diseases such as cancer. The following paper demonstrates how a diet high in plant fibre promotes the production of butyrate as an effective additional treatment for ulcerative colitis: Increasing fecal butyrate in ulcerative colitis patients by diet.
Another causal factor in the development of ulcerative colitis appears to be the excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids and the consumption of trans-fats & animal-derived saturated fat. Most refined vegetable oils contain excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, junk foods and many processed/packaged food products still contain trans-fats even when they declare the amount as zero, and cooked animal-derived saturated fat is particularly toxic and destructive to the colon.
Trans-fats, all saturated fats and excessive omega-6 fatty acids (apart from GLA) promote inflammation, suppress beneficial bacteria, and appear to directly damage or impair the function of the epithelial layer of the small and large intestine. On the other hand the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids; ALA, EPA and DHA reduce inflammation and increase beneficial gut bacterial diversity. The following article in Nature magazine reports on a study that demonstrates the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in relation to gut micro-biome diversity: Omega-3 fatty acids correlate with gut microbiome diversity, extract below.
“...our data indicate a strong correlation between omega-3 fatty acids and microbiome composition and suggest that supplementation with PUFAs may be considered along with prebiotic and probiotic supplementation aimed at improving the microbiome composition and diversity.“. PUFAs in this case refers to omega-3 fatty acids.
And this paper summarises the polar opposite effects of omega-3 compared to omega-6 fatty acids: Long-term intake of dietary fat and risk of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.. Extract below.
“A high intake of dietary long-chain n-3 PUFAs may be associated with a reduced risk of UC. In contrast, high intake of trans-unsaturated fats may be associated with an increased risk of UC.”. Again PUFAs in this case refers to omega-3 fatty acids.
Ulcerative Colitis – Cause for Optimism and Examples of Full Remission
The science strongly indicates and often demonstrates the link between diet and ulcerative colitis (the papers listed above are just a small sample) and as a reasonable person this data alone would in theory, motivate me to make dietary (and lifestyle) change my number one priority in treating UC. However, data is dry and lacks connection with our day-to-day lives on an emotional level. Often, genuine anecdotal evidence and case studies are more convincing and compelling. With that in mind I’ll provide a number of examples below of people who have all but cured (put into remission) their ulcerative colitis primarily by changing their diets (and lifestyles), along with some further resources relating to a whole food plant-based diet in the prevention and treatment of ulcerative colitis.
Gabrielle: Overcame Ulcerative Colitis. Quote: “It is now 4 months after changing my diet. I am now eating 15 different plant based wholefoods and experiencing no pain, urgency and zero presence of blood in my stool…“, “My new motto is “I eat to live” no longer do I live to eat…“, “My skin is glowing and I am totally pain free…“, “I didn’t know just how bad I was getting until I took notice of how good I now feel…“.
The Weaver Family: Conquering Ulcerative Colitis. Quote: “Today, I eat a low fat, starch-centered whole food diet, with high salad, and high fruit intake especially at breakfast. I have been medication free and symptom free for nearly 5 years with two small flares due to spicy food intake that were fixed within days of using fruit, green juices, and rest to calm my system; no symptoms have occurred in the last 2 years…“.
Andrew: Recovered from Severe Ulcerative Colitis. Quote: “I had a colonoscopy that showed me to be completely free of any signs of ulcerative colitis. When the pre-op nurse asked if I was taking any medications for colitis, and I said “No,” her eyes widened with amazement. That reaction alone made all the bumps in my path to where I am now fade into nothingness…“.
From Rock Bottom With Ulcerative Colitis to Pain-Free in One Year on a Plant-Based Diet. Quote: “When we switched to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle low in sugar and processed grains, all my bloating and pain disappeared. And miraculously, last April my doctors told me my labs showed incredible improvement and that I was healthy enough to try for another baby. I became pregnant shortly after, and we had a healthy, hefty baby boy in January!“.
Plant-Based Diet Has Me Winning My Long, Hard Battle with Ulcerative Colitis. Quote: “I am completely off prescription drugs and my ulcerative colitis is in full remission. I’ve never felt better and I know all of this is a direct result of my diet.“.
How I Healed Myself From Ulcerative Colitis. Here Kasey a.k.a. ‘Vegetable Police’ explains how (on a fruit-based diet) he achieved full remission from his own ulcerative colitis and it’s a very valuable video to watch for that reason alone. However, he presents his story in such a funny and entertaining way that it will also cheer you up a great deal if you’re feeling down at the moment :-)
How Intermittent Fasting Can Fix Your Gut (IBS, Colitis, Crohn’s, Gas). In this video Andrew Perlot explains the benefits of intermittent fasting as an additional treatment for ulcerative colitis. This video is based on Andrew’s own personal experience as a UC sufferer himself but I know from my own research that the science supports this idea. He explains how you can create a fasting window each day by adding a few meal-free hours before you sleep and/or after you wake up.
Treating Ulcerative Colitis with Diet. This video testimonial from Angie Sadeghi MD and one of her patients ‘Trinnie’ is very inspirational and supports the use of a whole food plant-based diet as a treatment for ulcerative colitis. Dr Sadeghi also makes the point that a large part of the benefit of this type of diet is how it improves the gut micro-biome in favour of friendly bacteria (especially butyrate producing bacteria).
The Biggest Mistake I made while healing Ulcerative Colitis. Shamiz’s ulcerative colitis healing story is motivating and instructive and in this video he emphasises the point that we need to ‘eat to live’ rather than ‘live to eat’.
Ulcerative Colitis – Further Resources/References
Cause and Cure?: Ulcerative Colitis. This is a useful and informative video, linking the consumption of animal products to the development of ulcerative colitis and recommending a whole food plant-based diet as a primary treatment method. Links to the studies and papers referenced can be found just below the video.
Treatment of ulcerative colitis using fecal bacteriotherapy. This is an unorthodox study and although it’s on a small scale its results are very powerful. It provides further evidence that improving the health of the gut micro-biome (especially within the colon) can help treat and and even reverse ulcerative colitis.
Bacterial and viral infections mimicking IBD. This PDF file provides an excellent summary of infectious agents that can mimic the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. This highlights a common problem with many so-called ‘autoimmune diseases’ including my own disease of rheumatoid arthritis. Since there are a number of infections that can mimic the symptoms of RA very closely it’s often the case that sufferers have an infection rather than actual rheumatoid arthritis. From my own research it appears that a fair number of UC sufferers are likewise suffering from an infection which mimics their symptoms.
How to Treat Ulcerative Colitis with Diet. In this article Dr Michael Greger M.D. explains how the consumption of animal protein may be causing relapses in ulcerative colitis sufferers. Highlighting that dairy may be one of the primary triggers for ulcerative colitis (I have no doubt about this personally as it’s also a common cause of rheumatoid arthritis) he suggests the removal of dairy for a trial period as a possible treatment. He also covers the link between hydrogen sulphide generation and UC and the potential of fostering butyrate-producing friendly bacteria feeding on fibre as a treatment.
Is Nutritional Yeast Healthy for Everyone?. In this video Dr Michael Greger M.D. shows that for some patients with inflammatory bowel disease (including ulcerative colitis) nutritional yeast (including brewers yeast) may be a trigger. The evidence he presents in the video strongly suggests that it may be worth avoiding all sources of yeast in the diet for a trial period to see if this improves UC symptoms.
Ulcerative Colitis – Cause and Treatment Summary
If I suffered from ulcerative colitis my main focus would be on changing my diet and lifestyle. (Keeping my physician informed) I would start by removing dairy from my diet completely as this appears to be a common cause of UC and a common reason for relapsing. Secondly I would remove all other animal products from my diet due to their production of toxic compounds such as hydrogen sulphide in the gut, their complete lack of fibre, and their disastrous impact on butyrate-producing gut flora. I would also remove added oils and fats (refined oils and margarine for example) as well as all forms of junk and processed so-called ‘food’. Following this, for a trial period I would avoid gluten and yeast-containing foods.
I would then adopt a whole food plant-based diet with a raw fruit (non-citrus) component, take a broad spectrum high CFU probiotic, and take a daily algae based omega-3 supplement containing around 300mg of DHA.
No matter which chronic diseases we’re dealing with we have to make our own decisions as to which course of action to take. For me I believe that the correct decision is to seek out the cause or causes (whilst working with a sympathetic physician) rather than just solely treating/suppressing the symptoms. Only the removal of the cause(s) will produce permanent remission i.e. a cure.
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