- How do Naturopathic Doctors Diagnose and Treat Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?
- What are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?
- How are Crohn’s and Colitis Diagnosed?
- Individualized Naturopathic Treatment for Crohn’s and Colitis
- What to know about colon pain
- Mind and Body Techniques
- Ulcerative Colitis Risk Factors & Comprehensive Care
- Treating the Patient’s Overall Health with a Holistic Approach
- Understanding Ulcerative Colitis Risk Factors
- Editor Speaks
- Natural Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms
- Dietary remedies for ulcerative colitis
- Herbal remedies for ulcerative colitis
- Other management options for ulcerative colitis
- My struggle with Ulcerative Colitis and the start of a journey to cure myself
- My struggle with Ulcerative Colitis
- Plans for a medical leave of absence
- Frustration with and lack of support from doctors
- My approach
How do Naturopathic Doctors Diagnose and Treat Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?
When diagnosing and treating patients with acute or chronic gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) address the whole person—including body, mind, emotions, genetics, environmental exposures, and socio-economic status. NDs employ a variety of diagnostic approaches to pinpoint the underlying causes of distress. Trained rigorously in clinical nutrition, behavioral medicine, botanical medicine, and conventional pharmaceuticals, NDs draw on a broad and deep spectrum of treatments, expanding options for patients with Crohn’s disease and/or ulcerative colitis.
What are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis?
Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (colitis or UC) are the most common disorders in a group of auto-immune GI diseases referred to as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). Crohn’s may develop anywhere in the digestive tract; ulcerative colitis is limited to the large intestine and rectum.
Thought to be caused by your body’s immune system having an abnormal reaction to normal bacteria in your intestine, both diseases are chronic, lifelong, and often debilitating. Intestinal pain, dangerous obstructions, and blockages, abscesses and ulcers are all possible complications. Acute flare-ups can be triggered by foods, stress, anxiety, depression, or acute infections. Tobacco products can also trigger flares of Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week is Dec. 1-7th, 2018. Learn more about individual stories by following #myIBD online, or visiting the official Awareness Week page.
How are Crohn’s and Colitis Diagnosed?
Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis can be hard to diagnose because symptoms vary from person to person, and are similar to those of other diseases. For example, the most common symptoms of Crohn’s are intense abdominal pain and diarrhea. However, a person with Crohn’s disease can have constipation and diarrhea and sometimes blood in the stool, although some people with constipation will not have any diarrhea or blood in the stool. In addition, the typical symptoms of Crohn’s can be identical to those of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). With ulcerative colitis, symptoms typically include bloody diarrhea, frequently accompanied by abdominal pain and weight loss.
To treat Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, naturopathic doctors address the whole person—including body, mind, emotions, genetics, environmental exposures, and socio-economic status.
Given the complexities of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, a correct diagnosis is essential to effective treatment. There is no one definitive test for Crohn’s disease. Testing is determined by the suspected location, small vs. large bowel. In addition to a comprehensive health history and an in-office exam, a naturopathic doctor may order stool testing to assess gut bacteria, markers of inflammation, and immune markers. NDs may also order blood testing for food sensitivities/allergies, celiac antibodies, folic acid deficiency, and inflammatory indicators such as C-reactive protein.
An ND may expand diagnostic testing for Crohn’s to assess gut bacteria, markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and fecal calprotectin, immune markers, food sensitivities, celiac antibodies, and folic acid deficiency.
Diagnosis usually involves endoscopic or imaging studies in patients with compatible clinical history, and naturopathic doctors refer patients to gastroenterologists for this vital testing. Colonoscopy is the most appropriate first test for a patient presenting with diarrhea and suspected large bowel CD. Wireless capsule endoscopy is increasingly being used for evaluation of suspected small bowel CD. Imaging studies are generally considered more appropriate for those with abdominal pain and to evaluate the small bowel. These can include upper GI radiography with barium, computed tomography (CT) and computed tomography with enterography (CTE), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and magnetic resonance enterography (MRE). Diagnosis can also be supported by specific findings such as perianal skin tags or abdominal tenderness.
Naturopathic doctors also frequently test fecal calprotectin, an inflammatory substance produced by neutrophil white blood cells. Measuring calprotectin is helpful in establishing that there is inflammation in the lower intestinal tract.
Individualized Naturopathic Treatment for Crohn’s and Colitis
Once a patient has been diagnosed with Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, or other IBDs, a naturopathic doctor will create a tailored treatment plan based on each patient’s individual presenting symptoms understood in context with the patients’ overall health and lifestyle. While there are no well-documented cures for either disease, the goal is to help prevent flare-ups, achieve and maintain remission, and heal as much of the underlying inflammation (even in periods without symptoms) as possible. Specific treatments a naturopathic doctor may recommend include:
- Elimination/challenge diets or other approaches to reducing food triggers (including elemental diets) to prevent or curtail flare-ups
- Curcumin in tincture, capsule, or whole turmeric powder form to reduce inflammation
- However, there are contraindications to the use of turmeric. For instance, turmeric should be avoided in patients who readily form calcium oxalate kidney stones.
- Probiotics to modulate the immune system and prevent flare-ups
- Stress reduction by various techniques
- Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) capsules
Because they are lifelong conditions, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis must be carefully monitored and managed, with more aggressive interventions necessary during flare-ups. Research shows that a naturopathic medical approach emphasizing diet and other lifestyle changes can be used to successfully manage these conditions. Naturopathic therapies may eliminate the need for prescription drugs (such as prescription anti-inflammatory medications, immune system suppressors, and antibiotics) or surgery, which have the potential to cause more side effects and long-term problems.
Research shows that a naturopathic medical approach emphasizing diet and other lifestyle changes can be used to successfully manage Crohn’s and colitis, and may potentially eliminate the need for prescription drugs.
However, if natural approaches are not successful, naturopathic physicians do not hesitate to prescribe palliative medications (when state licensure allows) or to refer patients for treatment with various medications, biologic drugs, or surgery. A naturopathic medical approach has the added benefit of focusing on engaging patients in managing their own health—a crucial component of living a long and healthy life with these challenging conditions.
A service for consumers from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM). The AANP and the INM would like to acknowledge Eric Yarnell, ND, for his contributions to the content of this FAQ.
Image by Natiya Guin.
What to know about colon pain
There are several medical conditions and temporary digestive issues that can cause colon pain. The sections below discuss these in more detail.
When stool is too large or too hard, it cannot pass out of the colon and rectum comfortably. This can cause abdominal pain and pain near the rectum and anus.
Sometimes, hard stools can cause tears in the lining of the anus, or anal fissures. This can lead to bleeding and pain with bowel movements.
People with constipation may need more fiber in their diet. They can help soften the stool and allow it to pass more easily by:
- consuming high fiber fruits and vegetables
- talking to a doctor about fiber supplements
- drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
Certain medications can also cause constipation. A person with medication-related constipation should talk with their doctor if this side effect is causing them distress.
Diarrhea has a variety of potential causes, ranging from food intolerances to viruses and bacteria. It occurs when a person’s colon contracts too often, which causes watery or loose stools.
These fast contractions may cause abdominal pain and cramping that leads to colon pain. Loose stools may also irritate the anus, causing burning and stinging.
Diarrhea is often short lived if a virus or food intolerance causes it. However, some bacteria and illnesses that cause diarrhea can be severe and may lead to dehydration.
Treatment options for mild diarrhea may include electrolyte drinks (to prevent dehydration) and a bland diet.
The National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) say that over-the-counter (OTC) antidiarrheal medicines may help treat acute diarrhea. However, a child should not use OTC medicines without their parent or caregiver first consulting a doctor.
People who have diarrhea that lasts longer than a few days should speak with a doctor.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive condition with symptoms that often affect the colon. IBS can cause stomach pain and cramping in the colon, usually around the time of a bowel movement.
IBS may also cause:
- gas and bloating
- mucus in the stool
Healthcare professionals do not currently know the exact cause of IBS. However, there may be a link between IBS and increased sensitivity of the intestines or immune system.
Some treatment options for IBS include:
- eating more fiber
- avoiding gluten or other foods
- following a low FODMAP diet
- trying stress management techniques
Some OTC and prescription medicines may also help, depending on a person’s symptoms.
Diverticulosis is a condition wherein the colon forms small pouches, or sacs, in its walls. It affects 35% of adults aged 50 and under in the United States, and nearly 60% of those over age 60, according to the NIDDK.
If any of these sacs become inflamed, it can cause pain, bleeding, and other symptoms. When this occurs, it is called diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis can cause pain in or around the colon, as well as:
- loose stools or diarrhea
- cramping in the lower abdomen
- blood in the stool
Many people can reduce their risk of developing diverticulosis and diverticulitis by having regular bowel movements. They can achieve this by adopting a high fiber diet, exercising often, and staying hydrated.
People who have symptoms of diverticulitis should see a doctor. In rare cases, diverticulitis can lead to serious complications.
Colitis refers to a group of conditions that cause inflammation in the colon. These conditions include:
- Ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is one type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It is characterized by chronic inflammation of the colon with ulcers or sores.
- Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is another type of IBD. It is characterized by inflammation that can affect the entire digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis, meanwhile, only affects the colon.
- Infectious colitis. In this condition, bacteria, viruses, or parasites cause irritation and swelling of the colon.
- Ischemic colitis. This condition causes reduced blood flow to the colon, which may cause pain and damage.
- Radiation colitis. Undergoing radiation therapy for cancer sometimes causes radiation colitis.
- Microscopic colitis. In microscopic colitis, the inflammation (of the colon) is only visible upon microscopic examination of tissue samples. The condition causes watery diarrhea but is typically less severe than other inflammatory causes.
Colitis can cause pain in the colon and abdominal area. It may also cause:
- bleeding in the rectum
- an urgency with bowel movements
- weight loss
- nutritional deficiencies
- mucus and blood in the stool
- diarrhea or constipation
A person may need medications, intravenous fluids, or antibiotics to treat colitis. Severe colitis sometimes requires surgery.
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or rectum. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in U.S. men and women combined, according to the American Cancer Society.
It is important to note that many people with colorectal cancer do not experience symptoms right away.
Those who experience colon pain should talk to a healthcare professional about screening tests for colorectal cancer, particularly if they are in a higher risk group for developing the condition.
Undergoing a colonoscopy is the best way to detect colorectal cancer early.
Colorectal cancer can cause abdominal pain near the area of the colon, as well as:
- changes in bowel movements, such as constipation or diarrhea
- bright red blood in the stool
- an urgency to have bowel movements, but which do not provide relief
- dark colored stool
- weight loss
Colorectal cancer treatment may include medications, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.
Mind and Body Techniques
Stress doesn’t cause ulcerative colitis. But it can worsen the symptoms and trigger flare-ups. There are several ways you can try to ease it.
Biofeedback. This is a system that teaches you how to control things like muscle tension and rapid heartbeat. At first, a machine helps you recognize what your body is doing. You learn how to quiet the symptoms of stress, and you eventually stop needing the machine.
Deep breathing. You inhale from all the way down, making your tummy expand and pull back in. That helps relax the body, particularly the muscles in your belly. That can be good for your intestines.
Exercise. Physical activity, even if it’s mild, can make you feel better and release stress. But if you do too much or make your workout too hard, it might backfire. If you’re not active now, ask your doctor what types of exercise would be good to try.
Hypnosis. Sessions with a trained hypnotherapist can help you deal with stress and anxiety. Early research suggests that hypnosis may help relieve the inflammation involved in ulcerative colitis.
Progressive muscle relaxation. You tighten and release various muscle groups, going one group at a time. It’s simple to learn, and you can do it anywhere, anytime.
Yoga and meditation. These can help you let go of stress. If you don’t have time for a yoga session, you might try even a few minutes of meditation. Just turn your attention to your breath, or to a word or thought that you find calming. Other thoughts will come up. Try to let those go. You might also want to try tai chi, a Chinese martial art known for its slow, meditative movements.
Ulcerative Colitis Risk Factors & Comprehensive Care
We offer a wide variety of leading-edge therapies to both control the disease and prevent complications. With advanced immunomodulator and biologic therapies available for ulcerative colitis, patients should expect a near normal daily life. These more advanced therapies control inflammation by decreasing your body’s immune response and target specific proteins identified with inflammation. Given as daily medications or injections, we’ll work together to determine the best course of treatment.
Our goal is to minimize disease-related ulcerative colitis symptoms and allow people to live well with this disease that can many times disrupt life.
Treating the Patient’s Overall Health with a Holistic Approach
In addition to advanced therapies, we believe in a holistic or whole-body approach to managing each patient’s health. Our ulcerative colitis team pays attention to the effect of short and long-term disease on overall health. This includes regular evaluations of the following:
- Bone health
- Eye health
Understanding Ulcerative Colitis Risk Factors
Several factors can contribute to your risk of ulcerative colitis, including what you can control such as diet and lifestyle and what you cannot control such as age and genetics. The most common risk factors for ulcerative colitis include:
- Age: Ulcerative colitis usually begins before age 30 or people may develop UC at any age.
- Race or ethnicity:Caucasians have the highest risk of UC although anyone of any race can get it. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have an even higher risk of UC.
- Genetics: People with a family history of ulcerative colitis are at higher risk of UC (parent, sibling or child with UC).
- Environmental factors: Reacting to substances within the environment such as bacteria or chemicals may trigger uncontrolled inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Diet and Lifestyle: While less common risk factors for ulcerative colitis, increased consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids may contribute to issues with digestive health. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle or smoking are also risk factors for overall health which contribute to your gastrointestinal health.
According to National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and kidney Diseases : Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, or long lasting, disease that causes inflammation—irritation or swelling—and sores called ulcers on the inner lining of the large intestine. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s disease and microscopic colitis are the other common IBDs. The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. Researchers believe the factors may play a role in causing ulcerative colitis: overactive intestinal immune system, family history, and environment.
The most common signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis are diarrhea with blood or pus and abdominal discomfort. Other signs and symptoms include, an urgent need to have a bowel movement, feeling tired , nausea or loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, anemia—a condition in which the body has fewer red blood cells than normal, Less common symptoms include, joint pain or soreness, eye irritation ,certain rashes.
Good nutrition is important in the management of ulcerative colitis, however. Dietary changes can help reduce symptoms. An Ayurvedic physician recommend dietary changes such as, avoiding carbonated drinks avoiding popcorn, vegetable skins, nuts, and other high-fiber foods while a person has symptoms, drinking more liquids, eating smaller meals more often, keeping a food diary to help identify troublesome foods. Reason behind the condition may be different from the dietary factors but a particular food item can trigger the condition. It is always advised to avoid the foods which exacerbate the condition of Ulcerative colitis and resultant flare-ups.
Here is the most advised diet plan which helps to relax
the painful condition of Ulcerative colitis.
Fiber rich diets are meant to be the best for digestion but with Ulcerative colitis, high fiber diet can cause flare-ups, constipation and diarrhea so, it is advised to take fiber in limited ways. Instead of raw fruits and vegetables intake it is better to have them boiled or steamed. It is also applied with the legumes and whole grains ingestion.
The milk sugar presented in the dairy products normally aggravates the condition of Ulcerative colitis. Most of patients with the condition get intolerance from lactose which causes fear of inflammation and flare-ups with increased gastric problems. But it is quite unacceptable to fully eliminate the dairy products from daily diet as it is
the best way to add calcium and protein.
Drinking plenty of water can relax the ulcerative colitis condition. Adequate amount of fluid intake lessens the chance of constipation and indigestion.
Whole body gets detoxified with the help of water. Fresh juices with no harmful effects on the condition are also suggested for relaxed situation. Carbonated beverages and other hard drinks should be avoided as the every drink exacerbates the ulcerative colitis condition by flare-ups and constipation.
Due to limited sources of nutritional diet during Ulcerative colitis, the body gets weak. With little nutrition and interrupted ability of body parts, the function of nutrition absorption is also slowed down.
It is advised to consult a renowned dietician or Ayurvedic doctor to know about the best multi-vitamins supplements along with useful minerals suitable for the condition to provide a better balance of nutrition in body in spite of limited diet ingestion.
Caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee can increase the bowel movement and hence cause inflammation and painful flare-ups. In Ulcerative colitis condition, it is advised to limit or eliminate the intake of these beverages for relaxed sores and inflammation around rectum.
Stress does not cause ulcerative colitis; it can worsen symptoms in some people. Developing techniques to reduce stress can be helpful in managing the condition. According to a 2015 pilot study published in the journal PLoS One, Nine weeks of a mind-body practice that included meditation and cognitive skill-building helped people with ulcerative colitis or other bowel issues feel less anxious and have better control over pain and discomfort. Establishing good sleep habits is an important part of managing ulcerative colitis also.
Herbs: Curcumin (HOLUD) (an anti-inflammatory ingredient in the spice turmeric) and Plantago ovate (Esphopgol) have the best, though still limited, evidence behind them, according to a review of complementary and alternative therapies for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) Studies show that curcumin may help lessen or prevent the common ulcerative colitis symptoms of stomach pain and gas.
Probiotics: The inflammation of ulcerative colitis can disrupt the ideal bacteria balance in the gut, but taking probiotic supplements may help.
Exercise: According to results of research conducted on people with IBD higher exercise levels could lead to fewer flares.
Natural Remedies for Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms
A number of medical treatments are available to manage ulcerative colitis (UC). The goal of modern therapy is to prevent flares and extend the time between flares (remission), at least temporarily. But these medications can have serious side effects, especially when taken for long periods of time. For example, corticosteroids can cause a number of cosmetic, psychological, and hormonal problems.
Many people simply cannot tolerate these medications. Children in particular may have problems with standard medications. When compliance with prescribed medicines is poor, treatment failure is common. For this reason, many people turn to natural remedies to manage their UC.
Dietary remedies for ulcerative colitis
Some herbal or organic remedies may help promote gut health and prolong remission.
You can modify your diet by eliminating food allergens and optimizing living conditions. A relatively high proportion of people of European descent are allergic to gluten, a substance found in wheat. Anecdotal evidence suggests that gluten may aggravate UC symptoms, but this is far from an established link.
Eliminating these foods and beverages may also decrease the frequency and severity of flares:
- processed foods
- high-carbohydrate foods
- sugar alcohols
Low-fat diets seem to be particularly useful in delaying the recurrence of UC. Olive oil, medium-chain triglycerides, omega-3 fatty acids, and certain types of fiber might have a beneficial effect. High fiber intake may be helpful in some people. In addition to improving bowel regularity, it may improve the consistency of the stool.
High vitamin C intake may have a protective effect, and vitamin C-rich foods may be associated with a longer remission phase. Some of these foods include:
- bell pepper
Herbal remedies for ulcerative colitis
A few familiar herbal remedies may be effective in the management of UC.
Psyllium seed/husk enhances gut motility, alleviates the symptoms of constipation, and improves the elimination of waste.
Boswellia is a naturally occurring herb obtained from the resin part of tree bark. Its primary effect on UC appears to be inhibiting certain chemical reactions that produce inflammatory mediators.
Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples, may help ease the symptoms and reduce the frequency of flares. It’s proteolytic, which means that it helps break down proteins. This process appears to provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Bromelain is commercially available as a supplement.
Probiotics introduce healthy gut bacteria to restore and maintain a natural microbial flora in the gut. This may reduce harmful inflammatory responses and maintain remission.
Turmeric, the Indian spice used in curry, may help people with UC. Specifically, the curcumin found in turmeric is an antioxidant and appears to decrease inflammation while improving the effectiveness of traditional medical therapy.
Gingko has been effective in treating experimental colitis in rodents.
Other management options for ulcerative colitis
UC leads to several symptoms, not just gastrointestinal ones. Aside from medications, other interventions and lifestyle changes can help improve health and quality of life.
- Promptly treat anemia. Low levels of iron, folate, and B-12 can all cause anemia. Low iron levels can develop with bleeding. Some medications can interfere with folate absorption. While vitamin B-12 deficiency may also develop. UC flares can make it difficult to get the full nutrition you need. So the cause of anemia always needs to be identified and treated promptly.
- Consider supplements. Growing children or adolescents may need dietary or nutritional supplements to maintain optimal growth and sexual development.
- Manage your stress. Emotional stress is very strongly associated with UC. Prevent relapses with the help of stress-relieving exercises or therapies, yoga, and meditation.
- Practice a healthier lifestyle. Adding exercise and regular physical activity can help with UC. So can quitting smoking.
- Review your drug regimen. Certain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be associated with UC flares. If you have UC, consult your physician before using an NSAID.
My struggle with Ulcerative Colitis and the start of a journey to cure myself
Scott Erik SundvorFollow Jan 20, 2017 · 8 min read
About a week ago I shared a personal story on Facebook about my struggle with health and gut issues, the ineffectiveness of medical institutions in helping me, and my plan for how to matters into my own hands and address this head on. The level of interaction and response that my post got absolutely blew me away and showed me that the topic of struggling with and learning how to overcome health issues is something that needs to be discussed much more than it is. To that end, I want to share an expanded version of my Facebook post here, with some more details on my plan for how to heal and cure myself.
This story is something that has long been very difficult for me to talk about, but I hope that by opening up about this, I can help others feel more empowered with issues they might be going through, and also offer myself as a resource for anyone who’s dealing with some hard shit, especially if it’s health or gut related. This will be a bit long, so thanks in advance for reading.
My struggle with Ulcerative Colitis
I have an autoimmune condition called Ulcerative Colitis (UC), which was diagnosed while I was a student at MIT in 2009. UC is an intestinal disease that causes ulcers in the large intestine, which can cause pain/discomfort, severe diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, anemia, and if the disease isn’t controlled well it can often lead to the colon being surgically removed, or even colon cancer. If you ask any doctor, they will tell you that there is no known cause and no known cure for UC — this is an important note, which I’ll come back to later.
Having UC has been difficult to deal with, but I’ve always powered through and tried to not let it affect my life. I treated the disease with the drugs I was prescribed, and while I did a lot of my own research on how to best treat the disease with lifestyle, diet, and alternative medicines, I never really forced the issue. While I’ve never spent a long period of time in full remission, I always felt that I could continue my life as a “normal” person. However, in 2016 that started to change, and by November/December my UC had become the most severe it had ever been. I started having severe stomach pain, internally bleeding, lost 20 pounds because my body couldn’t absorb nutrients, and was so fatigued that I couldn’t get out of bed for days.
My doctors told me that the inflammation in my colon was so severe that they could try one last drug (that only has a 40% success rate and some pretty terrible potential side effects), and if that didn’t work, they’d have to surgically remove my colon. I was scared. Really fucking scared. I had never felt so disabled and crippled in my life.
Plans for a medical leave of absence
During that time, I was very fortunate to have an extremely supportive family, a partner at work (my amazing co-founder, Shireen), and a partner at home (my amazing girlfriend, Libby), that pushed me to take time from work and focus fully on my health. I’m such a workaholic and have such a sense of responsibility to Nima, the company that I co-founded, that without that support I would not have taken the time to get myself healthy. But with that urging, I developed a plan to take a 2 month medical leave from work to fully focus on my health. That medical leave started the first week of January and will continue until March.
When I decided to take a medical leave, I also decided to take matters into my own hands. I turned down the drugs my doctor offered that only treat the symptoms and not the disease. I challenged the assumption that there is no cause and no cure for Ulcerative Colitis — I simply don’t believe that, and I believe that I’m intelligent enough to use available research and data to determine the best way to treat myself. Whenever I was home sick in December, I spent hours doing research: I read every medical journal I could get my hands on, joined several Facebook groups where people shared stories of how they self-treated themselves with success, and started digging into the chemical and biological factors that affect the gut and can lead to inflammation and intestinal disease. That work and associated lifestyle changes, treatment, etc. continues now. The changes I’ve made in just the past few weeks (mainly diet, meditation, exercise, and supplements so far) have already made me feel better and healthier than I have in several years. I still have a long way to go before I’m fully cured, but I honestly believe that I can identify the cause of UC by understanding the root biology and chemistry happening in my body, and make the changes necessary to cure myself.
Frustration with and lack of support from doctors
Throughout all of this, I’ve had very little support from my doctors in treating my condition in the way that I want to be treated. Doctors are largely taught to practice evidence-based medicine. That means they need a lot of data, studies, and clinical trials before they’ll recommend a treatment option. While that may work for well known and understood diseases and makes sense from an avoid-medical-malpractice-lawsuits perspective, there’s a major downside to that approach: There’s a massive amount of information and new research available for a host of health issues, but these studies are often small and don’t have the funding required to run intensive clinical trials, so this new research very rarely makes it into the doctor’s office. The system is highly flawed.
When I first started doing my own research, bringing medical papers to my doctors, and presenting them with new information on alternative treatments I was learning about, I was flatly turned down and just offered new prescription drugs. At first this was very frustrating, but when I try to put myself in their world-view, I understand that that’s simply not the way that they were trained, and they’re doing what they believe to be best. I’ve learned that when it comes to my health, no one cares more than me, so I need to advocate for myself and do what I believe to be best (based on science and clear evidence), even if that’s different than what a doctor would recommend.
Since I published the first version of this post on Facebook, I’ve had many people reach out to me asking what I’m doing to help heal myself. I plan to write future posts in much more detail on each of the topics below (as well as others), but the high level is this:
Step 1 is research. Being trained as an MIT engineer, I’ve been ingrained with a need to understand the root cause of any problem. At the end of the day, everything is just physics — chemical reactions, the biology of cellular functions, etc., and by understanding the physics of the problem, I can determine how to fix it. Practically speaking, this means that I’m:
- reading any paper I can get my hands on about the chemical reactions that happen in our intestines and what impact that has on inflammation and autoimmunity
- learning about how proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, amino acids, fats, and other nutrients are metabolized in our body and how those metabolites interact with our cells (to understand the dietary impact on my disease)
- understanding better the science behind the interaction between our gut and brain (stress, sleep, mental health, etc.)
- researching the microbiome and how a gut dysbiosis (imbalance) is at the root of almost any inflammatory or autoimmune disease
Step 2 is lifestyle change and added supplements or drugs to reduce inflammation and induce remission. Since the end of December, I’ve started a supplement regime of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and gut repairing products. I’ve also been meditating for at least 20 minutes every day, have been exercising approximately 5 days a week, and have added a ton of organic fruits, veggies, and starches to my diet by switching to a plant-based, mostly vegan diet.
Step 3 is restoring a healthy microbiome. By sequencing my gut microbiome (through uBiome), I know that I have a severe dysbiosis of my gut bacteria compared to a healthy individual. I’ve learned that this is standard for UC patients (although no doctor has ever mentioned that to me). To restore my microbiome to a healthy place, I’ll be going to a world-leading clinic in Buenos Aires to get a month of daily Fecal Microbiota Transplants in February (yea, it’s just what it sounds like — I’m getting the poop from a healthy person squirted into my butt). I’ll be writing more about this soon 🙂
Step 4 is maintenance. I am genetically predisposed for Ulcerative Colitis, but that doesn’t mean that the disease will always present, it just means that it’s more likely to manifest in the presence of certain epigenetic factors (external triggers like diet, antibiotic use, stress, etc.). By maintaining a proper and healthy lifestyle, I fully believe that I’ll be able to stay in “remission” forever, and functionally cure myself.
While I’m dealing with a shitstorm of a disease (literally), I feel extremely grateful and fortunate for the position that I’m now in. I’m so thankful for the support system of family, friends, co-workers, and complete strangers that have been absolutely incredible. I’m so grateful to have the motivation and intelligence to solve this problem on my own. And I’m so fortunate to still have a strong body that is so excited and ready to get fully healthy.
As I travel on this journey, I want to offer myself as a resource for people who are dealing with shit in their lives, especially when it’s related to health. I was in a pretty dark place in Nov/Dec and know first-hand the importance of support and am a huge advocate for empowering yourself and taking matters into your own hands. I also want to share as much as I can with others. My number 1 priority right now is to do the work, research, and lifestyle change necessary to get myself healthy, but I want to then summarize and share the knowledge I’m gaining. Health is the most important thing that we have, and I have the ability to help so many more people than just myself. I may also ask for some help along the way, and I thank everyone who has already helped me or will help me in the future.
Thanks for reading my story. My only ask right now is that if you know anyone who is dealing with health issues, provide them all the support that you can. Encourage them to read and do their own research to validate or invalidate their doctor’s assumptions. And if they have a gut disease (Crohn’s, Colitis, IBS, etc.), point them toward this blog. I’ll be writing a lot more in the future and I hope that my journey can help many others in their own journey to better health.