What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative Colitis is an incurable, lifelong disease. This is one form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. This affects the colon, also known as the large intestine. This is where the waste goes after nutrients from food are absorbed in the small intestines. Water is absorbed here, before you poop it out. With this condition, the colon swells up with inflammation and develops ulcers that ooze pus and mucus. This plays out as severe pain and bloody, mucus filled diarrhea.
This is an autoimmune disease. It occurs because my immune system is mistakenly attacking my colon, thinking that it is a foreign invader. When this condition is active, it is known as a flare up – it can last days to even years. It can go into periods of remission, where your immune system stops attacking your colon, but it can be flared up at anytime. Common triggers include stress, spices, caffeine, dairy, alcohol, vegetables, fruits and oily foods.
This can be diagnosed with colonoscopy.
What Treatments Have I Tried?
Luckily, my Ulcerative Colitis does not affect my entire colon, only a small section near the rectum. I am lucky, as it can affect the entire colon for many people. It can even get to the point where they need to get their colon surgically removed because they cannot keep the condition under control. To treat it, I used to take Mesalamine, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which is the first line of Ulcerative Colitis treatment. However, NSAIDs are hard on your stomach, so I had to take Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI), to lower the amount of acid in your stomach. I tried several PPIs, like Esomeprazole, Lansoprazole, Pantoprazole, and Omerprazole, but they gave me too many side effects.
After several months of taking NSAIDs and PPIs to treat my Ulcerative Colitis, I was found to have Gastritis, inflammation of the stomach. I made the decision to stop both the Ulcerative Colitis and acid medication and decided to treat it via diet instead. I react poorly to medication, so the other lines of treatment, like steroids, is not worth the benefits.
In terms of diet as treatment, there is much that I need to be weary of. I must avoid spicy foods, I can only eat small amounts of dairy, if any at all. I only use small amounts of cheese, and aoid dairy milk completely. Almond milk is a healthier and more delicious alternative. I have to avoid or minimize my use of fruits and vegetables, especially brocolli and cauliflower. I also avoid meats that are hard to digest, like lamb, beef and more. This seems tedious, but there is much that I can eat. I love fish, turkey, bananas, noodles and sweet potatoes. I am Indo-Guyanese Canadian, so my family does eat curry. We cannot use masala, and curry powder, but tumeric and cumin are healthy and delicious alternatives. To be honest, I prefer curry this way, if I had a choice.
Stress is also a huge trigger, but unavoidable. I mediate and try to spend time with loved ones to keep my stress under control. It obviously is not completely gone, but it does significantly lower stress, thus lowering the amount of inflammation in my body.
How Does Ulcerative Colitis Affect My Life?
Using the bathroom so many times can cause severe dehydration. If I cannot stomach enough Gatorade or other electrolyte drinks, I need to go to the emergency room to get saline via IV. I hate the hospital, as it gives me nightmares and I hate being poked. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. It’s a really frustrating part of this condition, hospitals are horrible.
Aside from the physically draining aspect, Ulcerative Colitis can be tough to live with. On days when I flare, I cannot leave my house because I need to stay close to a bathroom. It used to be very embarrassing for me. I am gassy, and diarrhea can sometimes consume my life. That sounds gross to everyone else except to those with similar conditions. When I do go out and diarrhea strikes, it can be so nerve wracking. I need to locate the bathroom every time I step into a new building, it creates serious paranoia. Using public transportation is a nightmare because there are no bathrooms nearby. Using public bathrooms is a nightmare. Everyone can hear you and the smell isn’t pleasant. I used to be ashamed and stay in the stall until the bathroom was empty so no one would know that I was behind the poop. I am luckily in remission at this time.
I can handle this a lot better now. I have a pooping disease – it is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone poops, in fact, if someone didn’t poop then they are the ones with the problem, not me. Pretending that girls don’t fart is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard. Ulcerative Colitis is my condition, it’s part of my life and it’s nothing to hide.
To keep this under control, as mentioned earlier, I need to be extremely strict with my diet to prevent a flare up. This has completely changed my lifestyle. I can only use caffeine and alcohol rarely, and even that is pushing it. I cannot use spicy foods, oily foods and acidic foods. I avoid dairy as much as I can – I have switched to almond milk. I can only use vegetables in small amounts, and need to avoid the ones that can make you gassy. Cauliflower and broccoli are NOT my friends. I eat fruits in moderation, but need to avoid ones with many seeds like strawberries. Meats can be tricky, as they are hard to digest. I also eat gluten and grain free, avoiding things like wheat, rye, oats, barley, rice, corn, buckwheat, quinoa and more.
I rarely eat out. If I do, it’s only a Hero Burger, and breakfast foods. Trying various spices and sauces can be very risky. My father is like my personal chef, so I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. What can I eat, you ask? I have noodles made out of beans, I eat a lot of fish and turkey. My dad bakes me goods like bread, crepes, wraps, cakes and more using coconut, almond and arrowroot flours. I LOVE my diet.