Last week, I introduced the topic of ulcerative colitis. I talked about what it is and the conventional and natural treatments. I also mentioned that not all treatments are created equal. In other words, just because it is natural does not mean the root cause is being addressed. Now I want to break down the root cause, leaky gut and what causes it. This will be an over-simplification, for a more in depth article on leaky gut check out my intestinal permeability article.
What is leaky gut?
If you have been reading my blogs, you have heard me talk about this before. Leaky gut is lay term for increase intestinal permeability. Your gut is technically considered to be external to your body. Think of it, from your mouth to your anus everything is exposed to the external environment. This is why the body’s immune system predominates in the digestive tract, about 70% of the immune system.
We essentially have a barrier. I liken it to a castle or fortress. The microbiome, the good guy bacteria, are one part of it. They help create a mucus layer which I compare to a moat of a castle. The cells of the gut are fixed together by tight junctions, the castle wall. And then there are the immune cells that are present to make sure nothing gets in that shouldn’t, the guards. Receptors are present to allow things we want in through the gates and channels, the drawbridges. Here is an illustration:
What I am talking about is well illustrated on the left side. But what can happen is the tight junctions are opened, the mucosal barrier breaks down (sorry to present in the image), channels/gates are opened, and particles can get through easily. This should not happen. It is supposed to be tightly regulated.
How does it happen?
In one word, inflammation is how this happens. Essentially, multiple things cause leaky gut. We are living in a perfect storm. Toxins in the environment such as pesticides, herbicides, personal care and hygiene products, and heavy metals can cause gut inflammation leading to leaky gut. Poor diets filled with processed, refined foods and sugar can do this.
These combined can lead to pathogens (bad guy bacteria and other microbes) in the gut that cause illness and dysbiosis. Dysbiosis, microbiome imbalance, can be caused by normal flora, the good guys again, taking over. This is often the case with Candida infections and SIBO, small intestine bacterial overgrowth. As you can see it is quite complex and multifaceted. And I barely touching on it.
Link between leaky gut and ulcerative colitis
Leaky gut is often talked about as the root cause, this is not true. It is a cause or a factor. Without leaky gut it has been surmised that autoimmune diseases like ulcerative colitis may never happen. The science is still developing. But it is the cause to leaky gut that is really the root cause as described above. When the gut opens up food particles and pathogens get in and trigger an immune response.
This is how gluten has been implicated in many autoimmune diseases. Gluten should never pass the gut barrier, but it can in leaky gut. We have a lot of research on it. It is not the main or sole cause in autoimmune diseases, but it serves as a good example. When food particles like gluten pass the barrier, the immune system targets it creating inflammation. As you continue to consume gluten it causes systemic inflammation. The body begins to expand its search and destroy process and starts to attach its own tissue, thus autoimmunity. Again, I am oversimplifying it. Here is another article that breaks it down more.
As we examined last time, ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease of the large intestine. I want you to focus on that it is an autoimmune disease. These diseases are different manifestations of the same cause, that is leaky gut and its cause. The cause of leaky gut is the root cause. We still have to address leaky gut, but only giving glutamine to heal the gut will miss the root.
Ulcerative colitis is a tough disease as there can be immense bleeding which can be emergent. That is why I recommend seeking acute medical help to make sure it is under control. But the conventional long-term care I disagree with because it doesn’t address the root cause. We have to heal the gut through proper nutrition, herbs, and lifestyle change.
Natural Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis
Since, the cause of ulcerative colitis and other autoimmune diseases is multifaceted we need a multifaceted approach. This can be hard and overwhelming. I am the kind of guy that wants to rip the band-aid off. I also am a big picture guy. So I approach things and treat them holistically. I want to address each of the body’s systems together as they are interdependent upon each other. Let me break down how I do this.
Diet is hugely important to ulcerative colitis. I cannot stress it enough. We need proper nutrition. A nutrient dense diet provides this, but also we need to remove inflammatory foods. I try to be as pragmatic as possible here, but often it is hard. Diet is crucial. What I ask is hard, there is no denying that. It is vastly different from the standard American diet. It is not a temporary diet for the most part either like the usual fads. This is a lifestyle change. That is usually where I can fail in my pragmatism. I do warn and recommend it nonetheless.
What is a nutrient dense diet? It is a whole food diet filled with good quality, pasture-raised animal protein, organic fruit and vegetables, and good quality fats such as extra virgin olive oil or grass-fed butter (if you can handle dairy).
A note on dairy, eggs, and nightshades. these are nutritious and healthy for you if you can handle them such as eggs, nightshades, and dairy. We don’t remove everything that can be inflammatory, but target the ones that are bothering people. Everyone is different and what can cause inflammation in one, can be nutritious to another.
You may notice what is missing from the above list, grains and legumes. These are not nutrient dense and belong to the inflammatory food list. Also in that list is soy, sugar, and blanketly, all processed foods.
Dysbiosis must be treated with ulcerative colitis. The majority of our gut bacteria reside in our large intestine and you can bet that an imbalance exists with ulcerative colitis. Treating this properly requires herbal therapy. Antibiotics are life-saving in acute illness but they wreak havoc on the gut microbiome. These little guys are super important to our health, check out this article. They provide nutrients and protection for us and we provide a great home for them. It is a symbiotic relationship, so we don’t want to kill them all off.
Herbs are a great way to destroy the pathogenic microbes while maintaining the normal flora. We use many herbs in our office that are helpful with this. Melia or neem leaf is a favorite of mine. It an herb commonly used in India and has strong, broad spectrum anti-microbial properties. It is anti-inflammatory too. This has helped numerous of my clients get well quickly.
Another herb, I love is chrysanthemum, yep, the flower. Like melia it is a broad-spectrum anti-microbial. It is also cardioprotective and anti-inflammatory. This has fast become one of my favorites, helping me get over many of my own health issues.
Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease. Inflammation is constant and must be addressed. Herbal therapy again helps in this arena. One herb, I love is manjistha, another herb commonly used in India. It is similar to turmeric. Turmeric is commonly used in many Indian dishes but is also used as anti-inflammatory. Manjistha is quite similar. I use its anti-inflammatory properties to decrease the inflammation and promote healing. There are many other herbs that are helpful with decreasing inflammation.
We need to address environmental toxins. This will decrease the overall stress on the body and thus decrease inflammation. This is another critical part in treating ulcerative colitis. Heavy metals are all around us. They are in the air we breath, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the products we use. They can make you very ill. Just think of where the term mad hatters came from.
For this, I commonly use carbonized bamboo or takesumi. It is a great binder and detoxer. Takesumi has been used in Japan for a long time. It not only binds heavy metals, but can help with food intolerances. I have used this when I realized I ate something I shouldn’t have. It helped lessen the reaction to the food. It can also be used as a teeth whitener. Pretty great product.
As you can see we must hit ulcerative colitis and other autoimmune diseases from multiple angles and I left out quite a few. I didn’t even mention the musculoskeletal system’s role in inflammation. To address these issues effectively in order to help the body heal naturally we must address them all at once.
We also cannot leave a stone unturned. We need to address each body system to remove stressors. Emotional health and stress at work is very important too. Lifestyle is crucial. We also need to move more, get out in nature, and so on. All these factors help decrease inflammation and support the body’s own natural healing ability. As it is with everything we work with nature, not against it. And we as doctors do not heal, the body does. We are here to support and help.
I hope this helps you understand how ulcerative colitis is treated naturally. If you want to get a head start, try something like Whole30. It is great diet and will probably help you out a lot. I follow many of its principles generally, not just for the 30 days. Otherwise, seek out a holistic practitioner in your area so you can get on the path to healing.