Colitis, also called irritable bowel syndrome, refers to an irritative-inflammatory state mainly affecting the final tract of the intestine, called colon.
Symptoms associated to colitis can be extremely varied, ranging from pain and abdominal tension, to irregular intestinal habits, diarrea and/or constipation (also alternating), flatulence, meteorism, bloating, difficult digestion, etc., are all symptoms attributable to colitis.
THE COLON AND INTESTINAL FUNCTIONS
To fully understand the reasons underlying the onset of colitis, a broad background picture about the role and functioning of the digestive tract and in particular of the intestine is necessary. The digestive process starts in the mouth: teeth fragment the food and mix it with saliva, forming the so-called bolus. The lingual enzyme lipase, together with salivary amylase and ptyalin start the digestive process of starches and fats. The stomach subsequently mechanically mixes the food, breaking down and emulsifying fats and exposes molecules to other enzymes, among with gastric lipase, that start hydrolysis of fats.
In any case, most of digestion and absorption takes place in the small intestine and is mediated by pancreatic enzymes and by bile. The small intestine, i.e. the first tract of the intestine, is in charge of breaking down pre-digested food reaching the stomach as well as absorbing nutrients through the villi. Bile juices, deriving from the gallbladder’s activity as well as digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are released into the small intestine.
This is where specific enzymes break down proteins: amylase transforms starch into maltose and lipase hydrolizes diglycerides and triglycerides, producing long-chain fatty acids. Enzymes therefore play a key role in the absorption of nutrients, particularly in the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibres. They can be divided into two categories: exogenous and endogenous enzymes: exogenous enzymes are assimilated though raw food, providing only enzymes required to digest that particular raw food; endogenous enzymes, instead, are mainly a product of the pancreas and of the subjaw glands and come into play to compensate for esogenous enzymes.
Of course, the higher the presence of raw foods in the diet, the lower the workload in the digestive process on endogenous enzymes, which should support the activity of enzymes already contained in the foodstuffs themselves.
As a matter of fact, every foodstuff, if intact, in its natural state and cooked at temperatures not lower than 60°C, contains a number or substances, in particular enzymes, that are useful for digestive processes. This facilitates the small intestine’s work considerably, as well as reducing workload of the pancreas. However, unfortunately foodstuffs today lack enzymes, due to cultivation methods, impoverishment of soil quality, transformation and manufacturing processes, or simply due to cooking procedures that do not preserve the enzymatic properties naturally present in foods.
The large intestine, forming the main part of the colon, is where the reabsorption of water and mineral salts takes place, as well as transformation of waste in faeces, expelled through the rectum. Chyme (mass deriving from the digestion of food) flows along the intestine thanks to peristalsis, i.e. contraction and extension movements of the intestinal walls, regulated by the rich innervation of the autonomic nervous system located under the intestinal mucosa.
As explained above, small and large intestine fulfill two distinct functions. Apart from the purely anatomical differences, they also differ with regard to pH levels – increasingly alklaline towards the large intestine, as well as for the type of bacterial flora inhabiting them… or that should be present. An alteration of this balance is the primary factor triggering the onset of colitis.
Alteration of the delicate intestinal ecosystem’s balance
The gastrointestinal mucosa’s surface reaches around 300 sq m. It consists in a cellular barrier, the epithelium and a molecular barrier, the mucous layer. The entire surface is colonized by microorganisms: over 400 different species inhabiting the intestinal microflora can be identified.
These microorganisms are principally saprophytes and most of them carry out important functions for the individual’s health, creating a sort of defensive barrier against aggressive microorganisms. Others, instead, are pathogenic, remaining harmless if limited in number, yet capable of causing diseases if the condition becomes favourable for them to multiply uncontrollably. A typical example in case is Candidiasis.
Healthy intestinal flora (eubiosis) is a condition of equilibrium that is, however, difficult to maintain. This depends on several factors, namely: internal factors, such as the quantity of oxygen available, which diminishes moving from the stomach to the final tract of the intestine; pH levels, initially acid and becoming increasingly alkaline thanks to pancreatic and duodenal secretions, and mechanical factors such as peristalsis; external causes, principally linked to personal lifestyle, such as psychogenic factors (anxiety, stress, etc.), iatrogenic factors ( intake of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anxyiolitics, laxatives, contraceptives, etc.), but mostly linked to the nutritional lifestyle adopted.
Modern nutritional lifestyle as a main cause of intestinal dysbiosis
Nutritional lifestyle plays a key role in the insurgence of intestinal problems. First of all, dietary excesses cause overwork for the intestine and other organs in charge of digestive processes (pancreas, liver, gallbladder), particularly when foods introduced lack substances necessary for their metabolization.
Generally speaking, nutritional lifestyle in the Western world is rather unbalanced and produces negative effects on the delicate equilibrium of the intestine’s ecosystem, due to insufficient supply of fibres and excessive intake of sugars and animal proteins. Excess of sweets and carbohydrates (sugars), refined and preserved foods, diets that are too rich in cooked foods, lacking enzymes, poor in fibres, unbalanced in the supply of different nutrients, not functional for an adequate development of physiological bacterial flora, leads to fermentative dysbiosis at intestinal level, featuring bacterial and fungal overgrowth (Candidiasis).
Excessive consumption of animal proteins (meat, dairy products, etc.), produces a putrefactive dysbiosis at intestinal level, with an increase of Bacteroides and also causes bacterial urease which, in turn, transforms them in carcogenic compounds by metisabolizing biliary acids.
Putrefactive dysbios can be corrected by reducing consumption of fats and animal fats and increasing intake of fibres. Besides, “technological” foods of our Western world entails the often unconscious intake of preservatives, colouring agents, pesticides, estrogens and antibiotics that have a devastating effect at intestinal level on physiological bacterial flora and digestive enzymes. In short, unhealthy nutritional habits and quality of foods consumed daily are among the principal causes of intestinal dysbiosis, the most straightforward consequences of which, referring to short-term effects only, are abdominal distension, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation and malaise.
If an incorrect nutritional lifestyle typical of modern life is protracted for several years, the small intestine never managing to complete its work properly, the obvious outcome will be that the mass conveyed to the large intestine through peristaltic movements will not be manageable by the colon, as it will not be functionally prepared to receive it. Undigested food residues will end up being fermented and putrefied by the rich and varied bacterial environment inhabiting the colon, triggering the development of gas, anomalous proliferations of intestinal microorganisms, abdominal tension, alterations in faeces formation, constipation, diarrhea… In other words: colitis. Add to this the frequent use/abuse of medicines, particularly laxatives and antibiotics, impoverishing beneficial bacterial flora, as well as widespread, often undiagnosed food intolernaces, and the intestine gradually becomes an “ill” site.
Pathogenic microorganisms replace physiological flora, putrefactive and fermentative process prevail over digestive processes; intestinal permeability alters, intestinal imbalance (i.e. dybsiosis) reigns supreme. Owing to the close network of innervations running through the intestinal mucosa, stress and emotions in general also play a decisive role in worsening the disorder. Anxious people are often at a greater risk of contracting colitis. The approach for the treatment of this much widespread disorder must therefore necessarily take into account all predisposing factors, particularly lifestyle and nutritional habits.
Treatment of colitis using conventional medicine
The key role played by dietary habits in intestinal dysbiosis and its possible consequences (constipation, meteorism, occasional episodes of diarrhea) has already been underlined above; the solution to the problem should therefore include “cleansing” the intestine from pathogenic microorganisms and correcting the nutritional regime, which basically means adopting a “perfect diet”.
However, it’s unconceivable to think that traditional methods can actually obtain targeted cleansing of the intestine; the use of laxatives or intestinal disinfectants or even invasive techniques such as colon hydrotherapy destroy physiological bacterial flora as well and are therefore counterproductive.
In an ideal diet, white flour should be eliminated in favour of spelt, kamut flour and brown rice; sugars should also be eliminated (sweets, jams, alcohol, etc.); there should be a drastic reduction of animal proteins (meat and dairy products); consumption of at least 4 – 6 daily portions of vegetable and 2 – 4 portions of fruit is recommended; organic foodstuffs should be preferred; most of all, as previously highlighted with regard to the role of enzymes, most meals should consist in raw food. However, the fact is that lifestyle imposed by our “technological” society makes perfect nutrition a largely unattainable, purely utopic aim. So…
What’s needed is therefore a different approach, aiming to solve the problem rapidly, yet without interfering with physiological digestive mechanisms, while preserving efficiency and balance of the entire digestive tract.
Nature can help you in case of colitis