Tell us how you became interested in Gut Health and Naturopathy?
My journey into naturopathy began with my own diagnosis of ulcerative colitis at 11 years old. Around about ten years old, I began getting blood in my stools and remember lying on the floor scrunched in a ball in agony, telling mum I felt like I had glass in my tummy. I was using the bathroom in excess of ten times a day. After many trips backwards and forwards to the doctors, I was sent to the hospital for a camera up my backside and promptly told by the specialist I had ulcerative colitis. I distinctly remember him saying it was an autoimmune disease, it was incurable and the best thing we could hope for would be periods of remission. It was a very hopeless, overwhelming and confusing time. I was then swiftly put on high doses of steroids that have a host of horrible side effects. I quickly became one very sad little girl. It got to the point where my mum decided something had to change. We were desperate for alternatives to the medication. She took me to see an integrative GP, who was the first medical professional who believed what I was eating was directly affecting my disease activity. He immediately removed aggravating foods from my diet, supplemented with supporting nutrients, begin to work at healing and sealing my gut, and there began, my much more hopeful healthy journey.
My symptoms didn’t disappear overnight though. It required a lot of dedication and commitment from my parents and myself to stick to the treatment protocol. I saw many complementary medical practitioners at the time including naturopaths and kinesiologists and it is fair to say their treatment saved my life and gave me a life worth living again. It wasn’t easy at times but I do believe you reap what you sow, and at my last colonoscopy (sixteen years later), there was no visible inflammation seen. I’ve experienced first hand the power of using nature to heal! I wholeheartedly believe in a holistic approach to healthcare. It’s so upsetting how reductionist healthcare has become. We are all made uniquely, and if one part of the body is suffering, it affects everything. There are not many more things as rewarding as empowering people to live happier and healthier lives.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a form of inflammatory bowel disease. It occurs when the mucosa of the colon becomes ulcerated and inflamed. Most of the time it occurs in the lower part of the large intestine but it can affect the entire large intestine. It’s accompanied by many wonderful symptoms – most often- diarrhoea, bleeding and mucous in the stools, abdominal pain and fatigue. UC is considered to be an autoimmune condition, meaning the body is attacking itself.
How is UC diagnosed?
The gold standard for diagnosis is a colonoscopy, which involves a small camera attached to the end of a long tube that is inserted up the backside where the large intestine can be viewed. Often they will take a small biopsy to sample the tissue and view it under a microscope.
What is the difference between Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease?
Ulcerative colitis and crohn’s disease are the two forms of inflammatory bowel disease. The main difference between the diseases is that crohn’s disease can penetrate the entire thickness of the bowel wall, whereas UC is limited to the superficial layers. Crohn’s disease can also affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth down to the anus.
Lots of people who are diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis are given corticosteroids as treatment. What are your thoughts on this?
Yup, typically courses of corticosteroids such as prednisone are prescribed. This is because prednisone is an immune suppressant drug, used to dampen down the extreme immune response. They can be hugely effective at getting down acute inflammation rapidly, however doctors try not to use them for long periods of time due to their long list of side effects. I got all the typical side effects, ‘moon face’ (a swollen, round face caused by excessive exposure to cortisol), rapid weight gain, fluid retention, insatiable appetite, stunted growth and blurred vision. I also had many depressive symptoms and anxiety whilst on it. Prednisone can be a very difficult drug to come off, as it has to be weaned slowly.
What are some factors that can exacerbate Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?
Where to begin! The main ones would be stress, antibiotic use, poor diet and alcohol consumption.
We now know overuse of antibiotics is a potential causative factor in the development of IBD. A single course of antibiotics can alter the gut microbiome (bacteria ecosystem in our gut) for up to 16 months. Infectious agents like parasites or bacteria can also massively exacerbate IBD. I have seen people with undiagnosed parasites that have induced a flare.
Are there any supplements or herbs can help support IBD?
There are many! A qualified practitioner should always tailor herbs and supplements to the individual but I have a few favourites.
- Vitamin D: a powerhouse vitamin, intricately involved in modulating our immune system, making it very important in influencing disease activity. It’s commonly deficient in IBD patients and deficiency is related to higher disease activity.
- Turmeric: one of our most potent anti-inflammatory herbs that has demonstrated in studies to be effective at reducing relapse rate and disease activity.
- Boswellia serrata: one of my most favourite herbs for ulcerative colitis. Wonderfully anti-inflammatory & indicated specifically for ulcerative colitis. In clinical trials, it’s been shown to be more effective than a commonly prescribed drug for IBD (sulphasalazine).
- Probiotics: Disruption to gut bacteria, known as dysbiosis can cause an imbalance in the gut microflora, leading to dominant ‘aggressive’ bacteria and insufficient ‘protective’ species. Probiotics are strain specific so they’re best selected by a qualified practitioner.
What are your top 5 tips for supporting IBD naturally?
1. Address your diet. Despite what many gastroenterologists are still telling patients, diet has a huge affect on gastrointestinal health. Every piece of food consumed passes through the intestines where that inflammation exists. That food has the power to heal or harm. I am not going to plug a diet because one size doesn’t fit all, but it’s very important to tune in to your own body’s needs to discover what it’s telling you. Typically, gluten, dairy and a high protein diet are three of the biggest inflammatory culprits in IBD.
2. Manage stress. Easily said then done, I know. But long-term stress triples the risk of exacerbation for IBD patients over the following 8 months. We know that when people are in periods of flight or fight, blood supply is diverted away from digestion and sent to our vital organs. We also know even short term stress has the ability to increase intestinal permeability. It’s important to find an outlet that works for you, and also become accustomed with your own limits in life. Know when to say no.
3. Chew properly. Digestion begins in the mouth. If we were supposed to just swallow our food, we wouldn’t have been given teeth! Salivary enzymes are released in the mouth when we chew. We also have antimicrobial substances produced in the saliva to help kill pathogens. In our western culture, we eat on the run, shovel food in and are often not present with each meal. Making sure a mouthful is already liquefied before swallowing reduces the work required on the rest of the digestive organs.
4. Limit alcohol. Alcohol has an exceptional ability to increase intestinal permeability. Studies show 1-3 glasses of red wine for seven days drastically increases the permeability of the gut (or leaky gut). Not ideal when the aim is to heal and seal!
5. Consume a diet rich in prebiotic foods: prebiotics act as a fertiliser to beneficial bacteria in your gut. These are foods such as onions, legumes, beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke and legumes. Feed the good bugs baby!
If you or someone you know is silently suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease or gut issues, book in to see myself or Elle. We can personally tailor a management plan from a holistic perspective, using dietary lifestyle and herbal interventions to take control and get your health back on track.