Three Potential Deficiencies
Though most people with UC don’t have problems getting vitamins and minerals, there are three to watch for:
- Folate. It is important for preventing cancer and birth defects, but some 5-ASA medications (such as Asacol, Canasa, Colazal, Dipentum, Pentasa, and Rowasa) can make it harder for your body to absorb folate.
- Iron. Blood loss due to inflammation and ulcers in the colon can cause low iron levels. A simple blood test can determine if you are anemic.
- Potassium. Diarrhea or taking steroids can cause potassium levels to be low.
Talk to your gastroenterologist about whether you are at risk for these deficiencies and whether you need to take a supplement.
UC and Lactose Intolerance
If you can, keep milk and dairy products in your diet. They are a primary source of calcium and vitamin D, which keep your bones healthy, so they are especially important for women. Using steroids such as prednisone for a long time can also thin bones and make it difficult for the body to absorb calcium, raising the risk of osteoporosis.
People with UC often think they have lactose intolerance, which means they can't properly digest the sugar in milk and milk products, because some symptoms are similar. But people with UC are no more likely than others to have lactose intolerance. If you suspect that you have it, your doctor can do a simple lactose tolerance test.
Ideally, you should get at least 1,500 mg of calcium a day. If dairy products cause you discomfort, you may be able to eat them in small amounts. You can also try using a lactase supplement to break down the lactose in dairy products. If you just can't stomach dairy products, your doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements.
Fish and Flaxseed Oils Fight Inflammation
Fish oil -- found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and black cod, as well supplements -- acts as an anti-inflammatory. Though early studies are mixed, fish or flaxseed oils may help fight inflammation of the colon in UC.
Probiotic Supplements for Ulcerative Colitis
Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that help maintain the natural balance or organisms found in your intestines. They are available in yogurt and supplements, and some researchers -- as well as people with inflammatory bowel disease -- think they may help reduce symptoms.
In European studies, the probiotic E. coli Nissle helped prevent UC flares. E. coli Nissle supplements are not yet available in the United States.
But other studies haven't found probiotics to be any better than placebo for ulcerative colitis.
Drink Fluids for UC
When you have chronic diarrhea, dehydration is a risk. Drink plenty of water or other fluids to stay hydrated.
Tips for Gaining Weight
If ulcerative colitis is causing you to lose weight, try eating five or six small meals and snacks instead of two or three large meals a day.
Dietary supplements (such as Ensure, Sustacal, or Boost) can also provide missing nutrients, although they may cause diarrhea in some people. Talk to your doctor or dietitian before taking dietary supplements.