Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the large intestine. It should not be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Ulcerative colitis is characterized by the presence of inflammation and ulceration in the intestinal mucosa. The chief symptom is chronic diarrhea, with pain, blood, and mucus in the stool
Although ulcerative colitis has no known cause, bio-medicine presumes a genetic component to susceptibility. However the disease may be triggered in a susceptible person by environmental factors, such as stress. Anecdotally, I would add that in every case I have treated with Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, high levels of stressors, poor stress management, and/or untreated emotional issues (which in turn create stressful reactions like anger) have been a factor.
Severe cases of U.C. can lead to anemia, toxicity, and even death. Even mild cases can involve weight loss and pain. This is a disease to be taken seriously.
Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic treatment of Ulcerative Colitis is very helpful and can be used safely alongside Western medicine drug therapy. Unlike simple drug therapy, Chi.Med. and Ayur. treatment is holistic and comprehensive; we treatment the whole person in the unique manner they manifest their disease pattern.
Chinese Medicine conceptualizes Ulcerative Colitis as a manifestation of “Damp Heat in the Intestines.” There are symptoms of “dampness” (chronic diarrhea: the presence of too much fluid in the stool, also mucus/pus in the stool) and “heat” (inflammation, ulceration, blood in the stool)
Typically this “Damp Heat in the Intestines” has developed over time due to “Liver Depression Qi Stagnation” which is how Chinese Medicine names the way stress and emotional repression affects the nervous, hormonal, muscular/soft tissue, cardio-vascular, and digestive systems. This upsets the entire “Qi Mechanism” of the body, creating chaos where there should be order. The Qi mechanism is, essentially, how Chinese medicine describes the way things work under normal healthy conditions. Qi is the master that leads the blood and fluids of the body where they have to be, like the locomotive of a train. The Qi circulates the blood and fluids.
As the Qi stagnates, so do the fluids of the body, accumulating where they should not be. This is dampness. If this dampness congeals further it develops into phlegm. As Qi is by nature warm (living beings produce heat) over time this dampness turns into damp heat. There may also be what we call “Blood Stasis” which is what occurs when Qi has stagnated over a long period; which represents a deeper, harder level of stagnation, and is a factor in the formation of wounds and bleeding, too.
And in the case of U.C. as the person has a susceptibility to disease occurring in the large intestines, when environmental conditions are right, that is, when the Qi has stagnated enough to upset the above mechanisms, we end up with Damp Heat in the Large Intestine complicated by Qi and Blood stagnation, underlying weakness of the Qi Mechanism, possible Kidney Yang or Yin weakness, and possible Phlegm stagnation. Not a simple problem. This is not a common cold or simple tension headache.
Chinese medicine has a variety of medicinal combinations used for Ulcerative Colitis involving a combination of herbs that heal tissues and wounds, like Astragalus or Tien-Qi, with herbs that are anti-inflammatory and heat clearing, (Forsythia, Isatis); damp draining (Coix); liver qi relaxing (Bupleurum); immune
boosting/adaptagenic (Reishii; blood “moving” (Salvia Miltorhizae) and aromatically stimulating (Magnolia, Cang Zhu).
Damp draining, by the way, here refers both to the ability to alleviate diarrhea and improve large intestine function, and to the ability to treat infection and inflammation that is wet by nature, like ulcerative tissues.
Acupuncture is also very valuable in the treatment of U.C. Acupuncture’s fundamental function is to circulate or unblock “stuck Qi.” There is an aphorism in Chinese Medicine: “…where there is pain, there is stuck Qi, where there is stuck Qi there will be pain.” But more important is that “stuck Qi” is the energetic blueprint for disease, and in Ulcerative Colitis the underlying cause of the Damp Heat is the Depression of Liver Qi. Over time this “Liver Depression Qi Stagnation” collected and collected in the Large Intestine, due to some constitutional (read: genetic)susceptibility, to get the Qi moving again is the beginning of healing, of undoing this disease forming process.
And I have seen that even in one treatment with acupuncture and moxabustion, a U.C. patient can begin to feel relief of the pain associated with the disease, and a reduction in episodes of diarrhea.
My Ulcerative Colitis patients with the most successful outcomes are the ones that complemented their medical treatment with Meditation, Tai Qi, and Western Psycho-therapy or Counseling. This, to me, is real Holistic treatment; treatment that includes the Body, Mind, and Emotions; its not just a question of taking herbs like we take Ibuprofen (without looking at the pattern), or blaming everything on diet. “The mind commands the Qi…” is another aphorism. This means that the biggest source of toxins is between our ears and in our hearts; to deal with these realities in the place they originate is the greatest treatment. But it is work. It undertaking a process of self-understanding and healing of emotional wounds and conflicts, or at least undoing the patterned way we respond to stressors.
In Ayurveda Ulcerative Colitis is a disease that involves an aggravation of Pitta and Kapha, which combine to aggravate Vata. There is a heavy collection of Ama, typified by a thick greasy tongue coating, and typically an excess of Tamas and Rajas, as well. This disorder must be treated with a very Sattvic and Tridoshic diet– that means easy-to-digest, mild, pure foods that are fundamentally nourishing and cleansing, that will not irritate the ulcers and will restore the prana and tissues. The starting point for these processes is to stimule Agni without creating heat or damp.
Ayurvedic herbal treatment begins with Trifala, which is adaptogenic, reduces inflammation in the intestines and promotes healing of ulcers in the mucosa. We combine this with Boswellia serrata, a potent herbal anti-inflammatory that also reduces pain and pacifies Kapha. We may also use Ashwagandha, which is Ayurveda’s premier adaptogen to improve immune system function and relieve the effects of stress (a Vata nourisher), and Neem; which has potent anti-bacterial and Pitta pacifying effects.
It would be ideal for someone pursuing Ayurvedic therapy for this disease to undergo skilled Panchakarma treatment in India. But, Caveat Emptor; Ayurveda is now a big money maker in India, so go somewhere you have valid referral for. In the meanwhile, I would recommend once weekly Oil Bath Massage (see earlier article) to pacify Vata and Pitta.
Oddly, Western bio-med treatment does not seem concerned with the use of diet to ameliorate symptoms. This seems short sighted, as its obvious, that if there are open wounds in the lining of one’s intestines, then at the barest minimum the patient should be counseled to avoid irritating foods like chilies and cayenne pepper and consume easy to digest foods. While diet alone will not cure U.C., it should be part of the home medicine or “nursing” program for the disease, and is at least 25% of treatment.
In Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine we look at the particular qualities of disease symptoms in order to understand what diet to prescribe. As there are symptoms of “dampness” and “heat” in Ulcerative Colitis, we must choose a diet that, just like our herbals, clears heat, dries or drains damp, and preserves or even stimulates digestive fire.
In Chinese Medical terms “Damp Heat in the Intestines” needs a diet that clears toxic heat and eliminates dampness. A diet that eliminates dampness is one that avoids damp producing foods like wheat and cheese, while at the same time includes green foods and vegetables that cleanse and mild spices that stimulate digestive fire to transform damp.
A diet that eliminates toxic heat is one that avoids fiery foods like alcohol, refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, too much fat, excess animal fat, shell fish and crustaceans, and very spicy foods with chillies and cayenne, or even black pepper.
But there are many other herbs and spices that are both antibacterial and digestive stimulating that are excellent for U.C. Herbs like coriander, cumin, and fennel. A diet for U.C. should be easy to digest, primarily cooked foods with some raw food depending on the person’s individual constitution. In all cases a diet should be tailored to the patient’s individual constitution while accommodating cultural values, as well as idiosyncratic likes and dislikes.
A person with this disorder fundamentally needs to find a way to be nourished. They are at risk of losing weight, they have what amount to open sores in their colon, and their ability to transform life and food has become impaired. This is the starting point. They need to be strengthened.
In my next post read about an Ayurvedic lentil and vegetable dish suitable for someone with U.C.
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego