How to Prevent Ulcerative Colitis Flare-Ups

Stephanie Eckelkamp
Medically Reviewed
January 31, 2021

What are actionable steps you can take to make your symptom-free stretches last as long as possible? “Nutrition and stress management are probably the two biggest things as far as prevention goes,” says Cori Cohen, a health coach and registered dietitian formerly with Parsley Health.

Parsley Health providers and health coaches often work with members who have ulcerative colitis to find a diet that helps them minimize flares and a stress management routine. Below, we’ll dive into some specific ways to optimize your diet with natural remedies and make adjustments to your lifestyle while living with ulcerative colitis.

1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet with plenty of veggies.

Because inflammation is at the root of inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis, eating to minimize inflammation is key. In fact, research suggests that an IBD anti-inflammatory diet —which encourages the intake of prebiotics (fiber -rich plant foods and legumes), probiotics (fermented foods), and omega-3 fats to restore intestinal flora—may ease symptoms. In addition to scaling back on pro-inflammatory added sugars and highly processed carbs, there are two big ways to up the anti-inflammatory power of your diet, according to Cohen: Ramping up your veggie intake and focusing on the right fats (easy natural remedies).

“At a minimum, you want to be having three servings of vegetables per day, since low vegetable intake is associated with a higher incidence of UC ,” says Cohen. Vegetables contain a range of polyphenol antioxidant compounds to fight inflammation, along with digestion-supporting fiber.

And as for fat, “make sure you’re limiting omega-6s from processed seed and vegetable oils and getting enough omega-3s , which are anti-inflammatory,” says Cohen. Most Western diets are sky-high in omega-6s and low in omega-3s, and this imbalance in essential fatty acids can promote inflammation. Get your fill of omega-3s from fatty fish like salmon and sardines, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds, or consider a supplement .

2. Prioritize gut-supporting nutrients.

No single nutrient or supplement is a magic bullet for keeping UC flares at bay, but anything that reduces inflammation in the gut, helps repair and heal the gut’s epithelial lining, and fosters growth of healthy gut bacteria may be helpful, explains Cohen. Your veggie-heavy, anti-inflammatory diet will help, but these nutrients (which you can find get via food or supplements ) may provide an extra boost for gut health:

  • Probiotics , naturally found in fermented foods, are a good maintenance tool for promoting gut microbial balance.
  • Turmeric is a powerful spice that contains the potent antioxidant compound curcumin to help combat both chronic inflammation and gut inflammation.
  • L-glutamine is the primary fuel source for cells lining the intestinal wall and has been shown to help reduce hyperpermeability of the gut lining. Collagen powder and bone broth both contain this powerful amino acid.

If you want to start a supplement, talk to your healthcare provider. Parsley Health’s doctors create specific supplement protocols for each member based on the results of advanced testing.

3. Implement stress-busting practices.

Whether you’re dealing with a bad relationship, toxic job, lack of sleep , or even a medical scare, they can all trigger a stress response in the body that initiates a flare-up. While you can’t always control these stressors, you can combat the physiological effects they have on your body. Simple natural remedies to lower stress or mitigate its effects include going to bed at a reasonable hour (and on a consistent schedule), meditating, deep breathing, practicing yoga, going for a hike, or doing anything that brings you pure joy. Feeling stuck? Think about an activity that you do where time seems to stand still and you’re completely absorbed in the moment—that’s the ideal stress-buster!

4. Keep a food and symptom journal.

A key part of preventing flare-ups is knowing your personal ulcerative colitis triggers, which can vary from person to person. “Some people are triggered by gluten and dairy , while some people aren’t—so it’s important to identify what specific foods trigger you,” says Cohen. “Keeping up a food and symptom journal can be really helpful.”

Start jotting down what you eat and drink in a notebook so you can identify foods and beverages that may be causing flares to occur. If you start to see a pattern emerge, you can try eliminating that food/drink for a while to see if you get some relief. Parsley Health doctors and health coaches can guide you through the appropriate way to eliminate and reintroduce foods and help you identify triggers.

Stephanie Eckelkamp

Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and certified health coach based in Allentown, PA. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. Her work has appeared in Martha Stewart Living, mindbodygreen, Greatist, Women's Health, Men's Health, Prevention, and Good Housekeeping. When she's not writing or nerding out on the latest health news, she's most likely on a walk with her pup Lucy Goose or trying to convince her boyfriend to eat more broccoli.

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