Ulcerative Colitis and the Role of Probiotics (A Promising Treatment?)
“All disease begins in the gut.”- Hippocrates
As quoted by Hippocrates several decades back, it is acknowledged today how accurate he was. A diseased gut can, in essence, take a heavy toll on your overall health.
One such gut illness, called ulcerative colitis (UC) can wreak havoc on your body as it tends to involve nearly every organ system (besides colon) ─ including the liver, skin, joints and muscles, kidneys, eyes, lungs and so on so forth.
The most dreaded complication of a long-standing UC is colorectal cancer.
Given these facts, it is imperative to treat UC in the early stages. Besides various other treatments for UC, probiotics have also shown promising results.
What is UC and How to Recognize that You Might Have UC?
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), characterized by diffuse, chronic inflammation (colitis) and sores (ulcers) in the lining of the colon (large intestine).
UC is likely if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea, often bloody
- Rectal bleeding
- Lower abdominal pain and cramping
- Rectal pain
- Mucus or pussy discharge from rectum
- A constant feeling to evacuate the bowels
- Inability to pass stool despite an urgency
- Weight loss
What Causes UC?
UC is primarily idiopathic (no known cause). However, most research reflects that one or more of the following factors might play a role in its emergence:
- Microbial/Immunological: A well-documented cause of UC is an imbalance of the intestinal bacteria. 1 A glut of the bad bacteria in comparison to the beneficial ones can impair the protective inner lining of the intestinal wall. These bad guys adhere to this protective lining and trigger a sequence of events, culminating in UC.
- Genetic: It is believed that UC runs in families. Several genes have been implicated in the causation of UC.2
- Environmental: Certain factors in the environment can increase the likelihood of developing UC.
- A high fat and a low fiber diet 3
- Medications like NSAIDS (pain killers) and antibiotics 4
The Good News: Probiotics can Ease UC Symptoms
Probiotics form a protective barrier by coating the inner lining of the intestinal wall. Additionally, these good bacteria containing probiotics compete with the disease-causing bacteria for shelter and space in the colon. This staves off the bad guys from gluing to the intestinal lining and inducing inflammatory damage.5
More interestingly, the probiotic organisms travel down the lining of the intestinal tract to reach the layer where the immune cells reside. There they show their proficiency by altering specialized immune cells, called dendritic cells, making them less responsive to the bad bacteria.
Probiotics, especially those comprising of Lactobacillus strains check the growth of bad bacteria. They are also effective in mitigating the UC symptoms like diarrhea. 6
To sum up, probiotics tweak the gut organisms as well as the immune response.7 The overall effect is a reduction in the inflammatory harm to the intestinal lining and an improvement in UC symptoms.
Take Home Message
A healthy gut is the cornerstone of a healthy body. Unfortunately, diseases like UC can end up ruining the entire framework of your body.
With the passage of time, probiotics have gained recognition for the treatment of a variety of digestive ailments. Probiotics have demonstrated a potential to ameliorate UC symptoms and maintain remission when combined with other treatments.
Dr. Rasheed Huma
- Matricon J, Barnich N, Ardid D. Immunopathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease. Self Nonself. 2010;1(4):299-309. doi:10.4161/self.1.4.13560.
- Sarlos P, Kovesdi E, Magyari L, et al. Genetic update on inflammatory factors in ulcerative colitis: Review of the current literature. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology. 2014;5(3):304-321. doi:10.4291/wjgp.v5.i3.304.
- Hou JK, Abraham B, El-Serag H. Dietary intake and risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease: A systematic review of the literature. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2011;106(4):563–573.
- Bayasi M, Quiogue J. Noninfectious Colitides. Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery. 2015;28(2):87-92. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1549847.
- Fedorak RN. Probiotics in the Management of Ulcerative Colitis. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2010;6(11):688-690.
- Islam SU. Clinical Uses of Probiotics. Wane. D, ed. Medicine. 2016;95(5):e2658. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000002658.
- Tannock GW, Munro K, Harmsen HJ et al. Analysis of the fecal microflora of human subjects consuming a probiotic product containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus DR20. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2000;66(6):2578-88.