Managing Ulcerative Colitis

A woman sitting on a bed holding her stomach in pain.

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) caused by inflammation of the large intestine and/or the rectum. This inflammation results in frequent and often painful bowel movements. 1 While a definite cause of ulcerative colitis has not been determined, researchers believe that it can develop from multiple factors, including environmental influences, genetic predisposition, dysregulated immune response, and epithelial barrier defects. 2 

Common Symptoms

Many people with ulcerative colitis experience the following symptoms: 

  • Diarrhea 
  • Bloody stool
  • Loud abdominal sounds (stomach rumbling)
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Rectal pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea
  • Joint pain and/or swelling

Note that these are the most common symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, and people may experience a number of other symptoms as well.  3 

Foods to Avoid

Diet can have a major impact on ulcerative colitis. For example, a diet rich in fiber can help to reduce symptoms in many people. 4 However, there are a number of foods that can trigger flare-ups and make symptoms worse. Avoiding or limiting the following foods may help to relieve pain associated with ulcerative colitis.

Dairy Products

Dairy sensitivity is common in people with ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases. 5 If you think that dairy may be contributing to or triggering your flare-ups, try removing lactose-containing dairy products from your diet for at least four weeks and observe any changes in your symptoms. A diet diary can be a helpful tool in connecting food and symptoms.

Fibrous Fruits & Vegetables (During a Flare-Up)

Although a high fiber diet is often advised for those with ulcerative colitis, during a flare-up it can be beneficial to reduce your fiber intake. This is because consuming less fiber will reduce the material in the digestive tract, which can speed up recovery from a flare-up. 6 Opt for peeled and cooked vegetables and fruits during a symptom flare-up in order to reduce your insoluble fiber intake.

Soft Drinks

Carbonated beverages, such as soda, may cause ulcerative colitis symptoms to worsen in some people. Further research needs to be conducted, but initial studies show that participants with ulcerative colitis who regularly consume carbonated soft drinks experience more severe symptoms than those who do not consume soft drinks. 7 Instead of carbonated, sugary beverages, opt for water or iced herbal tea when you are craving a cold drink.

Foods that trigger ulcerative colitis flare-ups are different in different people. If you are having trouble pinpointing which foods are affecting your symptoms, talk to a naturopathic doctor (ND) about an elimination diet. 

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