Unfortunately, two people dear to me have recently developed ulcerative colitis. Both live in the same household – a hint that the disease has a shared cause, like diet or an infectious pathogen.
Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease in which open sores, or ulcers, dot the colon. It often produces bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Ulcerative colitis is closely related to other inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s patients have damage to the small intestine as well as colon, but many of the symptoms overlap. It is quite likely that all the inflammatory bowel disorders are essentially the same disease induced by different casts of pathogens.
These diseases probably develop through a hierarchy of causes:
- Food toxins damage the intestine and make it leaky to gut bacteria and bacterial proteins.
- Malnutrition impairs the immune response to toxins and slows the healing of intestinal injuries. This makes the intestine even more leaky and damaged.
- Damaged immunity allows bacteria to penetrate the gut mucosa and infect intestinal cells, and to enter the body and create systemic infections including intracellular infections of immune cells. The immune response to these infections creates an inflammatory environment which makes the gut even leakier. The infections also weaken the ability of the immune system to heal the gut.
- Entry of toxins and bacteria into the body leads to autoimmunity. Food toxins conjugate with human proteins and provoke antibodies against the human protein; bacterial proteins that are ‘molecular mimics’ of human proteins engender antibodies that strike both the bacterial and human proteins.
- Autoimmunity leads to further damage to the gut and to other tissues, like the thyroid, which are important for immune function and wound healing. Hypothyroidism, for instance, promotes disease progression.
- In its early stages, development of the disease may be accelerated by a long course of antibiotics or an infection that causes severe diarrhea. These kill healthful gut bacteria and facilitate their replacement by pathogens.
If we prioritize these in terms of damage caused, then ulcerative colitis is an infectious and autoimmune disease, since these two factors do the most severe damage. It is generally unclear which is doing the most damage. Food toxins and malnutrition continue to be secondary sources of damage.
On the other hand, if we prioritize chronologically in terms of the original causes, the disease is originally caused by food toxins and malnutrition and sometimes antibiotics, which cause intestinal damage and infections, followed by autoimmunity.
Multifactorial nature of the disease – and the cure
Given the many factors that contribute to the disease, many steps may need to be taken to cure the disease:
- In our view, various dietary and nutritional tactics are critical, with toxin elimination and vitamin D normalization among the most important steps. Most medical treatments are likely to be ineffective if the diet is bad.
- Steps to improve gut flora may be essential. This is a fascinating approach which is gradually migrating from alternative medicine to research hospitals. In effect, friendly bacteria become warriors against pathogens on the patient’s behalf.
- Medical treatments can be very helpful, and can include antibiotics such as rifaximin to treat infections and thyroid hormone to promote healing and immunity. Extremely popular among doctors is the use of anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce autoimmune damage. Both antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drugs have dangers however.
This is a complex disease so I’ve decided to split up my discussion into a series of posts. Luckily, almost all of it is equally helpful for other digestive conditions; the same steps will heal acid reflux, for instance.
Part II will deal with the food toxins, how they contribute to inflammatory bowel disease, and how the diet should be altered to minimize its toxin load.
Part III will deal with the nutrients needed for proper gut and immune function, and how malnutrition contributes to the disease and can be repaired.
Part IV will deal with tactics for restoring healthful gut flora. This can itself be a curative therapy for inflammatory bowel disease, as doctors are increasingly realizing. And it is perhaps the easiest (if the ickiest!) of therapies.
Part V will deal with dietary tactics for defeating infections. These can be extremely helpful in overcoming any chronic infectious disease, and there is an undeniable infectious component to ulcerative colitis.
If I haven’t become exhausted, I may add a brief note regarding medical therapies. Doctors have a choice of anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive therapies appropriate for autoimmune diseases, and antibiotic and probiotic therapies appropriate for infectious diseases. Our bias is in favor of defeating infections; many autoimmune conditions, we suspect, will disappear within months after the infections that spawned them have been defeated.
Although bowel diseases are more complex than diseases like Alzheimer’s, you’ll notice that the dietary and nutritional strategies for all diseases are nearly the same. So, if you can’t wait for me to write, a good start would be to read about The Diet and our Eleven Steps for Overcoming Alzheimer’s and Other Chronic Infectious Diseases. Those have the guts of the strategies.
Other posts in this series:
- Bowel Disease, Part II: Healing the Gut By Eliminating Food Toxins m July 19, 2010
- Bowel Disease, Part III: Healing Through Nutrition July 22, 2010
- Bowel Disease, Part IV: Restoring Healthful Gut Flora July 27, 2010