Ulcerative Colitis Help, Advice & Remedy Ideas from UCer

Colitis & Fibre

I've decided to add a page about fibre because after changing my diet, I did some research on it and I've realised how important it is. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect that the lack of fibre in my own diet may have been one of the main causes of my flare-ups!

What is Fibre?

Fibre, or dietary fibre ('fiber' for our American friends) is the indigestible part of plants that can have various beneficial effects on our colon.

There are two types of fibre:

dissolves in waterdoes not dissolve in water
can form into gel like substanceprovides bulk to stool
can be prebioticcan be prebiotic
example: peeled sweet potato, white rice, peeled apple, porridge oatsexample: whole meal, whole bran, whole grain, fruit/veg skins, mushrooms, tomatoes, beans

Both soluble and insoluble fibre have beneficial effects on our GI tract, so it's important to try and get enough of both.

The recommended intake of fibre for adults is 20g to 35g per day - I think it's safe to say that the majority of us do not get close to enough! If I think back to my diet and the amount of fruit and veg I used to eat, I'd be surprised if I got anywhere near 10g a day!

Both types of fibre can be found in all plants, but in varying degrees. The types of food that contain fibre are: fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes.

There are also fibre gel drinks that are available which can be useful for UCers who are severely limited by the types of food they can eat - remember to test a small amount first!!

My insoluble fibre flare-ups

On the Ulcerative Colitis Flare-up page I said that I try to avoid insoluble fibre where possible because it has caused flare-ups in the past. I should clarify this by saying it was harder types of fibre such as whole grain, whole wheat, bran etc. that created the issues. This is due to the fact that they can be particularly irritating to the colon as they pass through.

The mistake I made was to eat them over a continuous period of time instead of say, once a week. This, I believe is what caused the problems and it's only through keeping a food/symptoms diary I've learnt that if I eat them in moderation, they don't cause a problem.

I should point out that there are still certain foods I avoid e.g. wholemeal bread and breakfast cereals (weetabix etc.)

Many foods contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. A good example is the avocado; an average size fruit contains 30% fibre of which soluble makes up approximately 40% and insoluble 60%.

It's also worth remembering that the amount of insoluble fibre may be reduced if for example, you peel fruit and veg as I do.

The benefits of fibre

Soluble fibre is good for bulking up the stool and absorbing water which means it may help if you are experiencing loose stools. It also helps to ease bowel movements, so can help with constipation, (along with drinking plenty of water).

I found sweet potato (a soluble fibre) did this for me during one of my flare-ups. The good thing is that because soluble fibre dissolves in water it's much easier to digest. Therefore it may be a good way to get fibre into the system whilst in a flare-up (you should still test small amounts first of course).

However, it's the interaction between bacteria and fibre in the colon that is of particular interest to colitis sufferers. In a nutshell; certain fibres that resist enzymes in the small intestine make their way to the colon where good bacteria are able to feed on it.

One of the most important by-products of good bacteria feeding on fibre is the production of short-chain fatty acids. I'd only read about this recently when I decided to start drinking a green smoothie everyday. It turns out that this could well be one of the wisest decisions I've made in relation to colonic health. I've put a short explanation about short-chain fatty acids below, but if you've never heard of them, as a UCer, I urge you to research them in more detail.

Short-chain fatty acids

Research is beginning to uncover the importance of fibre for colonic health, in particular the production of Short-chain fatty acids, which are basically a by product of fermented fibre (fibre in the colon that good bacteria have been feeding on).

These Short-chain fatty acids (such a butyrate), line the the wall of the intestines keeping it sealed, improving immune function and decreasing inflammation.

It's likely that our early ancestors were eating up to 10 times more fibre than we do today! That's an enourmous difference and it's not difficult to imagine how much the make up of the bacteria in our guts could change with that amount of dietary shift!

Feed your bacteria or they'll feed on you

Here's a really interesting fact that is very important for UCers to take on board...

If there isn't enough fibre, good bacteria dies off;
different bacteria then switches to another food source

If the gut lining becomes compromised, the potential for inflammation and disease increases. In fact, a recent Swedish study showed a link between bacteria penetrating the mucus lining and ulcerative colitis.

In a different study, the lining of the gut in mice fed on fibre free diets was greatly diminished compared to those on a fibre rich diet. Interestingly, a third group of mice were fed a part-time fibre diet with high fibre every other day - the lining of their gut mucus was about half of the high fibre fed mice.

Although the studies were on mice, it would seem logical to conclude that fibre should be a very important component of our diet, with a daily total of at least 20g a bare minimum. It seems that simply eating fibre now and then will still have a detrimental effect on the gut lining.

In reference to ulcerative colitis, I have seen a steady improvement in my symptoms with the inclusion of a daily green smoothie. This alongside sweeping dietary changes (such as the exclusion of fried & processed foods) plus more sleep and exercise, has given me a growing confidence in the ability to control my ulcerative colitis - I'm hoping it continues!

My green smoothie

For those that are interested, I thought I'd put my green smoothie recipe here. It's more about the nutrients than the flavour, but the taste is actually okay; don't forget the banana or the yuckiness level increases dramatically!! :

  • 1 peeled apple
  • 1 banana
  • 1 handful blueberries
  • Some leaves of collard greens (alternate weekly with swiss chard leaves)
  • 2 handfuls of spinach (alternate weekly with kale)
  • 1 avocado
  • 200ml almond milk
  • 200ml coconut water

I also add 'supplements' to the smoothie, but of course this is a personal preference:

  • 1/2 tsp chia seeds (good for bulking up stool)
  • 4g moringa leaf powder (contains many nutrients)
  • 2g Turmeric powder (a good anti-inflammatory)
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper (helps absorption of turmeric)
  • 2g camu camu powder (60 x more Vit C than an orange per serving)

Too Much Fibre

It's definitely worth mentioning that it's possible to eat too much fibre! It sounds strange, probably because most people don't get enough, but too much fibre in the large intestine can cause symptoms that are similar to UC! These symptoms can also be caused by eating a lot of fibre when you haven't had much for a period of time - so build up your fibre intake slowly.

As ever, the amount of fibre each person requires is different - there is no set amount. The average suggested amount is 30g per day, which is actually quite a lot, but I don't think most of us reach it.

The body can give various signals that you are eating too much fibre. They are:

  • cramps
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • gas
  • loud gurgling