The link between ulcerative colitis (UC) and alcohol can be unclear. Some studies have shown that alcohol can help with UC symptoms, while others have revealed the opposite. While the condition can manifest differently in each person, the current recommendation is for those with UC to limit their alcohol intake and consider a healthier diet as these can keep relapses at bay. Conversely, alcohol consumption can increase the likelihood of inflammation. If left unchecked, this can lead to life-threatening complications.
What is ulcerative colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is a condition marked by chronic inflammation in the digestive system, in particular, the large intestine. People suffering from UC will likely experience ulcerations in the innermost linings of the colon and the rectum. While the condition often develops over time, it often appears between the ages of 15 to 30.
Its symptoms include:
Bloody stools, often accompanied by rectal bleeding
Left untreated, UC can increase the risk of colon cancer, as well as other complications.
People with UC are also prone to blood clots in the veins and arteries, which can lead to stroke and heart attack.
How does alcohol affect UC?
Given that UC affects everyone differently, it's worth noting that studies that look at the effects of alcohol on UC can greatly vary.
For instance, an earlier study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology revealed that people who drank alcohol had a lower risk of developing UC. For this study, researchers gathered data from over 300,000 people enrolled in a specific health care plan. More recent studies, however, point the opposite direction, even saying that alcohol consumption can lead to negative health outcomes. A review in the Annals of Gastroenterology noted that alcohol causes inflammation in the gut, which can worsen symptoms of UC, instead of relieving it.
Here are two ways that alcohol may aggravate the condition.
It aggravates UC symptoms. Both UC and alcohol can trigger inflammation in the gut. Together, the two can further damage the large intestine and even lead to liver problems in the future.
It promotes UC relapse. For people with inflammatory bowel diseases like UC, alcohol consumption can increase their chances of experience a relapse. This is especially true for people who drink wine and beer with sulfites. Researchers found a potentially causal relationship between the two: The more a person drinks alcohol, the more likely he or she will experience a relapse.
Avoid foods that make UC worse. A person with UC should make adjusting his diet a priority, given that UC mainly affects digestion. Experts suggest removing greasy foods and dairy products from your diet. It's worth noting that the condition can vary for each person: Keeping a food diary to record meals helps track foods that cause adverse reactions. (Related: Plant extract heals ulcerative colitis, may prevent colon cancer.)
Exercise. Regular exercise can manage the complications that come with UC. These include a weakened immune system, weight gain, stress and decreased bone density. Additionally, moderate exercise releases compounds from the bones that help manage the condition.
Avoid stress. Studies have shown that stress can exacerbate UC's symptoms. Practicing meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation may help combat stress and consequently, UC.
Overall, alcohol is not recommended for people suffering from UC. To avoid relapses and further complications, it is best to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Eat healthy foods, exercise and avoid stress.
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