Posted: 30 Nov 2014 07:00 AM PST
Ulcerative colitis presents numerous treatment challenges. 18% of patients suffer from an active form of the disease, and 30% of those patients need a colostomy within 10 years of diagnosis.  Factors such as the timing of identification, environmental elements influencing the colon, and possible side effects have led researchers and doctors to look beyond the standard treatment protocols to alternative approaches.
Mainstream treatment of colitis uses a variety of drugs, mainly corticosteroids, depending on the severity of the disease and the responsiveness of the patient. With the use of drugs, about 30% of patients experience remission at 52 weeks of treatment.  
The most severe cases do not respond to drug treatments and may develop into advanced conditions, such as colorectal cancer. Surgery remains a regular practice for non-responsive patients. Some doctors have introduced a three-state surgery for active ulcerative colitis; the standard procedure involves only two stages. Researchers recently evaluated both approaches and found, while the 3-stage procedure is assumed safe, the results do not confirm this belief.  Patients undergoing the traditional two-stage surgery had no difference in abscess formation or pouch failure (a surgical creation to replace the colon and rectum). 
3. Fecal Matter Transfer (FMT)
The idea behind this new treatment involves relocating healthy colonic bacteria from a donor host to a patient. In other words, the technique essentially transfers fecal matter from one person to another. A study looking at the effectiveness of this procedure noted success in 1 out of 5 patients, or 20%.   Another, perhaps more preferable, way to get healthy bacterial colonies into the gastrointestinal tract involves the use of probiotics.
Probiotics have captured a lot of attention as a possible therapeutic option for ulcerative colitis.  Results of probiotic supplementation seem to prove favorable for maintaining one's remission status.  Adding probiotics by introducing kombucha, fermented sauerkraut, or probiotic supplements can go beyond protecting the colon, with plenty of research showing its positive effects on digestion and immune system health.
The ancient practice of acupuncture has shown promise for ulcerative colitis, with numerous research studies examining its effect on easing the severity of the disease. One study looked at moxibustion application (the heating of an acupuncture site) in tandem with a traditional ulcerative colitis drug. Patients with a mild to moderate condition experience much greater relief and symptom reduction than those who did not receive the moxibustion application. Another study examined the use of Kuijiening plaster to treat the spleen-kidney yang deficiency associated with ulcerative colitis.  Patients receiving the Kuijiening plaster treatment responded significantly better than those only receiving the standard drug.  The continued success of holistic treatments suggests the need for a broader consideration of the disease and its approaches.
Ulcerative Colitis: A Look to the Future
Strides continue to be made in the effort to find safe, effective treatments for ulcerative colitis. Alternative tools like probiotics and acupuncture have shown an immense amount of promise. Every patient facing the challenge of ulcerative colitis needs to keep informed of the advancements in how the disease is being approached, both by natural and conventional methods.
Have you ever experienced ulcerative colitis? Let us know your thoughts and experiences with this disease in the comments!
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
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