What you eat, how you deal with stress, and the dietary supplements you take can affect the course of ulcerative colitis (UC). "A favorable lifestyle will make medical treatment for ulcerative colitis more effective and may also make remissions last longer," says Bret Lashner, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland.
Healing Foods for UC
Good nutritional habits may help reduce symptoms, make up for lost nutrients and even promote healing, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. Most experts simply recommend that people with UC eat a balanced, healthy diet. Dr. Lashner also advises eating fish because of the anti-inflammatory effect of their omega-3 fatty acids.
When UC is active, bland, soft foods may cause less discomfort than spicy, greasy or high-fiber foods. Smaller, more frequent meals can also help ease discomfort.
If a person with UC is also lactose intolerant, it is necessary to avoid dairy products. When diarrhea is chronic, you can easily become dehydrated, so drink plenty of fluids.
Each person with UC may react quite individually to certain foods: there’s not a list of certain ones you must eat or avoid. To identify which ones cause you trouble, experts suggest you keep a food diary.
Taking Supplements Can Help UC
People with UC are likely to have nutritional deficiencies. Abdominal pain can quash the appetite and lead to weight loss. Diarrhea can rob the body of fluids and nutrients, and bleeding from the colon can lead to iron deficiency.
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America advises most ulcerative colitis patients to take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement, as well as a calcium and vitamin D supplement, especially if they are avoiding dairy foods.
Probiotics and UC
Probiotics, “friendly” bacteria that help restore the balance of microflora in the intestines, may offer a potential benefit to people with ulcerative colitis. Several studies have found that certain strains, or "cocktails," of the benign microorganisms can help induce or maintain remissions. However, “there are no probiotics effective enough to change treatment,” says Dr. Rubin. “And we don’t know which probiotic should be used, how much of it should be taken or how long to take it.” Other potential problems with taking probiotic supplements: They can be expensive and, since the FDA does not regulate these products, there’s no way to be certain of their contents or the potency of any of the strains of probiotics.
Stress and UC Flares
"Stress does not cause ulcerative colitis, but once you have the disease, stress may increase your risk of relapse," according to David Rubin, M.D., codirector of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the University of Chicago Medical Center. In addition to adhering to effective maintenance therapy, it makes sense to control stress in order to minimize relapses. Exercise, yoga and meditation can help manage stress. Support groups and therapists knowledgeable about inflammatory bowel diseases can also help patients and their families cope.
Sources: Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America; The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2007, Issue 4; Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, July 2007; Gut, November 2004.