Colitis can be brought on by a variety of triggers – and often, there is more than one factor involved. Dr. Doni goes over the basics of colitis, including the symptoms, root causes, how to test for it, and natural treatment options for reducing harmful inflammation.
What Is Colitis?
Perhaps we should start at the beginning—or rather, the end of the word. Whenever you see a condition with -itis at the end it means inflammation.
Sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinuses. Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes. And yes, colitis is the inflammation of the colon lining; also known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
In essence, the inflammation is the body’s way of trying to protect itself. If you think about it, it’s similar to the way your skin gets red and swollen when you cut it. That inflammation around the open wound is your body’s immune system jumping into action to keep bacteria out and force a healing process. The same goes for the lining of your colon.
While some types of colitis are temporary and limited in nature (such as from a stomach virus), other types of colitis can trigger life-long inflammatory conditions, including autoimmunity, such as Crohn’s, Celiac and/or Ulcerative Colitis.
Either way, the inflammation causes leaky gut due to damaged intestinal cells. Without intestinal cells to complete digestion of food and prevent bacteria and toxins from crossing the intestinal lining, you become more and more likely to have immune responses to the foods you eat. These are referred to as food sensitivities, and they create a vicious cycle of inflammation, re-triggering the colitis over and over again.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help many patients (and friends) in the past with their colitis because all that experience became extremely valuable when my own father started having symptoms. In fact, while he had symptoms for over three months—including weight loss of over 40 pounds—it wasn’t until recently that he was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s following a colonoscopy. Luckily I had been able to help him even before he got an official diagnosis.
Colitis Symptoms: What to Look For
- Intense abdominal pain or tenderness
- Rapid weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme fatigue
- Joint pain
- Canker sores
What Causes Colitis?
Stress (emotional or physical), infections, medications (antibiotics, birth control pills, NSAIDs), environmental toxins, and diet (certain foods like gluten) are the main triggers of colitis known to date. Often the person has a genetic tendency to colitis (or IBD) that is “turned on” by stress exposure.
It’s when your immune system tries to protect itself, however, that the real problems begin. As your immune system works to protect you from foods or imbalanced gut bacteria, it can become confused—and in turn, start attacking—your own intestinal cells. At that point, it has become autoimmunity.
I find it is often more than one factor that triggers IBD. Emotional stress, compounded by medication and toxin exposure, plus reactive foods and resultant imbalances in gut bacteria all compound together and end up causing IBD.
While studies show that foods are clearly an important factor when it comes to colitis, most doctors don’t address it. So you’ll likely need to be your own health advocate when it comes to dietary changes. The foods most often involved in increasing the inflammation and leaky gut, are gluten and dairy. In my dad’s case, based on the IgA and IgG food panel I recommend, we found that it was eggs, dairy, gluten, almonds, and bananas.
More commonly, the major food culprits of colitis include:
- Dairy proteins (whey and casein)
- Gluten (to include wheat, barley, spelt and rye)
- Gums and carrageenan
- Refined sugar (Including foods/products containing fructose and artificial sweeteners)
- And histamine-triggering foods
Testing for Colitis
In addition to the food sensitivity panel, there are health panels that your doctor may not mention that can provide information that will allow you to be proactive such as:
- DNA Analysis of the Gut Microbiome
- Fecal Calprotectin, Secretory IgA, and Zonulin
- Salivary Cortisol, 4 times samples
- Urinary Neurotransmitters
- Urinary Environmental Toxins
- Blood Tests for CRP, Ferritin, Vitamin D and Homocysteine
You can get access to these panels by working with a Naturopathic Doctor.
Following a colonoscopy to confirm the presence of inflammation in the colon, the typical medical treatment is to attempt to “turn off the immune system.” This is done with immune suppressants such as prednisone or biologics to stop the inflammation.
While necessary in some cases, these medications, unfortunately, have many potentially negative side-effects.
“Turning off the immune system” using prednisone essentially raises your cortisol levels, and as you know from my previous posts, this can disrupt sleep, cause weight gain, spike your blood pressure, reduce energy and cause depression or anxiety. Furthermore, turning off the immune system also turns off the HEALTHY immune functions, opening up the possibility of cancers and/ or other infections.
Surgery to remove part of the intestines is a last resort, used only if the inflammation closes off a section of the intestines. Unlike other organs when there is an issue, we can not simply remove the intestines all together. We very much need our intestines to digest food, absorb nutrients and detox our bodies.
There are other ways to address your colitis, however.
Colitis: Natural Treatment Options
Going back to my Dad’s bout with colitis, I have been helping him from afar. Recently, however, I flew to the West Coast to try some new approaches to his daily dietary regiment.
Start with a “Colitis Diet”
- First and foremost, I recommended that my dad remove highly inflammatory foods from his diet (even before I received the results of his food panel). Now he is avoiding gluten, dairy, eggs, bananas and almonds, as mentioned before.
- Secondly, he has been taking my Dr. Doni Pea Protein Shakes since he is on an exclusive liquid-only diet and needs protein, WITHOUT dairy or sugar, to keep his calories and weight up.
- I added my Leaky Gut Support Powder and Digestive Enzymes to his shakes to help heal his gut and ensure proper digestion of his food.
- We also added Brain Octane oil to his shakes to help promote weight gain. This is one of the easiest ways to add calories to a diet since it’s 9 calories per gram of oil.
I also wanted to make sure we found other prepared meal replacements that were beneficial to his recovery. Unfortunately, many of the meal replacements on the market today contain dairy, whey, soy, sucralose, and/or sugar. These can all make colitis worse. Eventually, I discovered OWYN (Only What You Need) protein drinks which are 100% plant-based and colitis-triggering safe!
Finally, I made homemade chicken soup for him – but likely with way fewer ingredients than you’re used to. First, I made bone broth from just free-range chicken and water – no onions, carrots, celery or even salt and pepper. Then once the chicken had boiled and the broth was done, I used a Vitamix blender to blend the chicken breasts with the broth until it was liquified.
At first, he could only drink small amounts. But as the days went by, and the inflammation decreased, he could gradually digest more, increasing his calories (and energy) each day without pain.
Other Ways of Healing Colitis Include:
- Adjusting Your Diet and Removing Inflammatory Foods (As mentioned)
- Balancing Your Gut Bacteria
- Fecal Transplants (Though these are only approved in the US for people with C-difficile infection)
- Hookworm Therapy (there is substantial evidence to support it and I’ve personally seen the positive impact of Hookworm Therapy. It’s through the substances that they secrete that help us to manage our immune systems and turn off inflammation. Studies have even shown that people with Celiac Disease can go back to eating gluten with certain Hookworm and Whipworm therapies.)
If you are, or someone you know, is suffering from the symptoms mentioned above, there is hope. With proper diet changes, supplements* and the right medicinal guidance, you can get back to feeling your best.
To find out more about how to work with me in person or even remotely, read more here about the services I offer and how to submit a request for an appointment.
You can begin educating yourself through my book The Stress Warrior (available FREE for online reading) and has an entire section on food sensitivities and leaky gut which helped my own Dad to really begin to understand how to help himself heal.
If this topic, and similar topics, interest you, and/or you are wanting to learn more about how to support your health using naturopathic approaches, I invite you to sign up to receive my weekly newsletter here.
30th July 2019
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.
Castro F, de Souza HSP. Dietary Composition and Effects in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Nutrients. 2019 Jun 21;11(6). pii: E1398. doi: 10.3390/nu11061398.
Croese J, Giacomin P, Navarro S, Clouston A, McCann L, Dougall A, Ferreira I, Susianto A, O’Rourke P, Howlett M, McCarthy J, Engwerda C, Jones D, Loukas A. Experimental hookworm infection and gluten microchallenge promote tolerance in celiac disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2015 Feb;135(2):508-16. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2014.07.022. Epub 2014 Sep 20.
Elliott DE, Weinstock JV. Helminthic therapy: using worms to treat immune-mediated disease. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009;666:157-66.