By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Ulcerative colitis affects a large population worldwide. With severe conditions there may be damage to the gut walls leading to several conditions such as obstruction of the bowel, perforation of the gut necessitating bowel surgery.
In addition ulcerative colitis also raises the risk of bowel cancer. Overall the condition with its symptoms, flare ups and possible complications thus may severely affect the quality of life of the sufferers.
Research in Ulcerative colitis
NIDDK, through the Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition undertakes several research projects in inflammatory bowel diseases including ulcerative colitis. One of the areas of focus is the exact mechanism by which the immune system gets activated and goes into an overdrive to affect the friendly bacteria in the gut followed by the gut lining leading to severe damage to the colon walls.
Once the exact mechanism and mediators that can bring about the change in the immune system are clearer, it may be found how to develop therapies to target the pathology. These targeted therapies may be more specific and thus may be hoped to be more effective without causing side effects damaging other organs.
At present numerous clinical trials are being conducted that are investigating ulcerative colitis. People who participate in these new clinical trials help in understanding the effectiveness of the new targeted therapies in ulcerative colitis.
A large number of participants, especially of different genetic makeup and racial, ethnic and geographical variety, can also help predict the differences of responses if any among these different groups of populations. (More details on new recruiting clinical trials may be found at http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/)
Complementary and alternative approaches to ulcerative colitis treatment
Many sufferers from inflammatory bowel diseases seek complementary and alternative medicine to relieve their symptoms. These include traditional Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine, acupuncture, reflexology, homeopathy and aromatherapy.
There are few reliable scientific studies that have proven the effectiveness of these methods alone in patients with ulcerative colitis.
Some of the methods that have been shown to be effective when given alongside traditional medicine especially in mild to moderate ulcerative colitis include use of acupuncture and herbs like aloe vera, boswellia serrata, curcumin (turmeric), wheatgrass juice etc.
Other methods that have shown minor benefits when used alongside traditional allopathic medicines include bovine colostrum enemas, nicotine patches, omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish oil), probiotics etc. However these are not recommended by prescribers as their safety and efficacy is still not well evidenced. These have a potential to be toxic and may interact with other drugs.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)