George Krucik, MD, MBA
Gluten is a compound in many foods and has been linked to certain digestive problems, such as celiac disease. Although gluten has not been implicated in ulcerative colitis, you may try to follow a gluten-free diet if you are concerned that food is making your symptoms worse, particularly because the symptoms of gluten intolerance are similar to those of ulcerative colitis.
Gluten is the name for a group of proteins and peptides, include gliadin, that are found in many grains. Grains that contain gluten include rye, wheat and barley. Celiac disease is a condition in which eating gluten causes inflammation of the small intestine. The intestinal inflammation results in severe pain, diarrhea and other problems of the digestive tract. Gluten intolerance is another condition for which you must follow a gluten-free diet.
Similar to gluten intolerance, ulcerative colitis is another disorder that causes inflammation of the intestines. Ulcerative colitis typically only affects the large intestine, also known as the colon. Ulcerative colitis can also cause abdominal pain and diarrhea as a result of inflammation of the intestines. Patients with ulcerative colitis may also develop rectal bleeding, constipation and unintended weight loss. Ulcerative colitis is a serious medical condition that can cause debilitating symptoms. Because this condition is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the large intestine, it can be difficult to treat.
Ulcerative Colitis and Diet
There is no conclusive evidence that ulcerative colitis is caused by diet, but some foods may exacerbate your symptoms. Typically gluten is not considered a food that will trigger ulcerative colitis; instead, dairy products, beans, broccoli, popcorn, alcohol, caffeine, raw fruits and vegetables and carbonated beverages are associated with triggering flare-ups of ulcerative colitis. However, if you notice that your symptoms are worse after consuming gluten, you should avoid all foods made with barley, rye or wheat.
The symptoms of ulcerative colitis and gluten intolerance are similar, and it is possible to have both conditions simultaneously, in which case a gluten-free diet is essential. However, the two conditions affect different parts of the intestines and are caused by different kinds of immunological problems. As a result, if you have ulcerative colitis, it is unlikely that following a gluten-free diet will relieve your symptoms. Talk to your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.