George Krucik, MD, MBA
The inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the innermost part of the colon and rectum. This leads to a number of symptoms including bleeding, diarrhea, cramping and weight loss. Diet plays a large role in mitigating symptoms, particularly during active flare-ups of the condition where they can become particularly intense. What you eat cannot cure the condition, but can go a long way in managing it.
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Diet and Ulcerative Colitis
The colon has a role in absorbing the excess fluid in the digestive process. Since ulcerative colitis affects the colon, or large intestine, this process does not complete properly. This explains the severe diarrhea and resulting symptoms of diarrhea that often accompany this condition. Eating to reduce diarrhea is a cornerstone of managing this condition, along with other changes that will benefit a malfunctioning digestive system. Since ulcerative colitis does not affect the initial digestion of food in the small intestine, your risk for serious nutritional deficiency is less than people with Crohn’s disease, but you should still aim for a diet rich in foods that contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Watching Dairy Intake
The University of Maryland Medical Center or UMMC, website advocates watching your intake of dairy products. If you have inflammatory bowel diseases, dairy products can worsen symptoms such as gas and diarrhea. You might have to eliminate dairy altogether, and if you require this, make sure you receive adequate calcium intake from other calcium-containing foods and supplements.
Fiber and Ulcerative Colitis
While a fiber-rich diet typically represents a healthy eating strategy recommended to manage a variety of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol, too much fiber can worsen diseases such as ulcerative colitis in several ways including increased contractions and cramping. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, or CCFA, recommend following a low-fiber diet. This means watching your intake of raw fruits and vegetables, corn, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Refined, white-flour foods have lower amounts of fiber than their whole-grain counterparts.
No specific recommendations exist on daily intake, and you should experiment with eating fiber-rich foods to determine your own personal tolerance.
The CCFA underscores the importance of staying hydrated if you have bowel diseases. Frequent diarrhea increases your risk for dehydration. Inadequate fluid intake can negatively impact kidney function, increase the risk of kidney stones and cause weakness. Drink at least 1/2 ounce of fluid for every pound you weigh, recommends the CCFA.
Watch your intake of foods that cause gas. The University of California at San Francisco recommends avoiding sugary drinks such as cola and alcohol, to lower the amount of water pulled into intestines which contributes to loose stools. Caffeine, carbonated beverages and popcorn might also prove problematic. Eating smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large ones might also ease symptoms.
The CCFA notes that research indicates eating probiotic-rich yogurt or taking yogurt supplements might also help improve digestive health. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseed might ease the inflammation characteristic of this disease.