Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, relapsing disease in which sufferers go through symptom-free periods followed by flare-ups. This vicious cycle can have a negative effect on a person’s quality of life, including their normal day-to-day activities.
A multicenter study identified a number of nutritional factors linked to an increased chance of ulcerative colitis flare, including myristic acid, which is found in coconut oil and dairy fat.
Researchers conducted an observational study with just over 400 people who have ulcerative colitis to see what role diet plays in ulcerative colitis relapse. The people taking part in the study were being treated with a common ulcerative colitis medication, known as mesalamine monotherapy. All were in remission. During the 12-month study, the patients were contacted every three months to assess disease symptoms. A flare-up was given a score, and participants completed a 131-item food frequency questionnaire. The researchers were able to analyze the relation between food intake and disease status.
As it turned out, about 11 percent experienced flare-ups or relapse of the disease at some point during the 12-month study period. The analysis showed that the risk of flare was more than double with high intake of several groups of fatty acids, dairy protein, lysine and alanine. In many cases, even a median intake of dairy, alpha linoleic acid, and lactose doubled the risk.
Myristic acid, the saturated fatty acid in coconut oil, has been previously linked to conditions such as obesity.
Common triggers of ulcerative colitis flare-up
The modern western diet is high in saturated fat and is known to set off symptoms is many people who suffer from ulcerative colitis. It is true that what causes a flare-up in one UC patient may not cause a flare-up in another. However, there are some common triggers of ulcerative colitis beyond food. Some are listed below.
- Pregnancy: This can create an altered biochemistry that leads to relapse. In fact, it tends to happen in 50 percent of female ulcerative colitis patients.
- Infection: Any condition or infection can potentially alter electrolyte levels in the body, thus causing UC symptoms.
- Certain medications: There are some medications, such as antibiotics, that throw off the gut flora, leading to flare-ups.
- Withdrawal from medication: Abrupt withdrawal from medication throws the body off and can lead to a flare.
Gastroenterologists often recommend that ulcerative colitis patients keep a diary of what they eat and note when they have a flare-up. If a woman with ulcerative colitis is thinking of having a family, she should discuss it with her doctor before becoming pregnant.
Tips to prevent ulcerative colitis flares
There is no way to completely prevent flare-ups if you suffer from ulcerative colitis, but there are steps you can take to help to reduce the number of nasty relapses. If you or someone you care about is suffering from this inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), consider the following tips to prevent flares.
- Take prescribed IBD medications regularly, even during times of remission.
- See a doctor regularly. Managing the disease is a partnership between patient and doctor, and should include visits every six or 12 months, depending on patient’s status.
- Follow guidelines for IBD tests and procedures. Proper disease monitoring and treatment will increase chances of overall good health.
- Monitor your disease. Keeping track of your health between medical appointments can be helpful for you and your doctor.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Proper nutrition is a big part of staying healthy and minimizing the impact of the disease. Consider help from a registered dietician.
- Think about multivitamin or mineral supplement. Ulcerative colitis can impair the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals, so supplementing with multivitamins or minerals may be helpful.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can improve overall health and do wonders for your mood, especially if your condition is bringing you down.
- Reduce stress. Some people find that stress can trigger inflammatory bowel symptoms, but stress management techniques can help you stay calm. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, and listening to music are some relaxation options.
Living with and managing ulcerative colitis can be a challenge. Moderate to severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, dehydration, bleeding from the rectum, loss of appetite, and nutritional issues are all problems associated with this inflammatory bowel disease. As many as 700,000 Americans may be suffering from ulcerative colitis. However, thousands are able to lead productive lives because they have managed to adjust their eating habits and work closely with their doctors to keep their flare-ups at bay.