Stress and Ulcerative Colitis

As some of you know, I have ulcerative colitis, and I also just completed an extended vacation.  It has been just over two years since my wife and I left town for more than a few days, so needless to say we were super happy to be getting away from it all.

Now that our vacation has been over for 1 week or so, it became clear upon our return that it was one of the best vacations we’ve taken together.  There are a whole bunch of reasons for why but the main reason for this post is to talk about stress and how it affects our bodies.

Several months ago, I was invited to attend a meeting in San Francisco where a well known Molecular Biologist was going to be talking about his newest bestseller book: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.  This particular doctor has spent a great deal of time examining human brain development and the genetics of psychiatric disorders and his name is Dr. John Medina.  An added bonus for arriving early was I actually was able to speak with the doctor one on one for about twenty minutes beforehand.  He seemed like a great guy, and a genius as well.  But at the time I had no idea how much I would learn from him.

So, back to my travels and vacationing.  Before leaving for the cross country airplane ride, I made sure to pack the “Brain Rules” book that I had only halfway read up until this point.  I really enjoyed the first half of the book, but as we always say, I “got busy” and just hadn’t finished it yet. That was going to change quickly, once we made it down to Cancun and had plenty of time sitting on the beach with absolutely nothing to do other than soak up the sun and a ton of water and a rare Jack on the rocks(some of my old habits are creeping back into my life again…).  So, there I was reading Brain Rules, and the Rule/Chapter about STRESS.

Dr. Medina lays out the background of how our brains handle and deal with stress in an amazingly interesting and simple way. brain rules But he also explained so much more that was complete news to me.  He explains on page 186 of Brain Rules, “Stress attacks the immune system, increasing employees’ chances of getting sick.  Stress elevates blood pressure, increasing the risk of hear attack, stroke, and autoimmune diseases.”

And you bet that caught my attention while sitting in the sand.  The words autoimmune disease caught me the most since I have one of those diseases right…

I don’t want to act as though I am a doctor, or even someone who is well versed in medicine or stress, but the chapter has made a big positive impact on me over the last few days and I think this will continue in the future.  The book explains how there are different types of “stress” in everyone’s lives.  But, the type of stress that comes from not having control over a situation may very well be the most important stress to avoid if possible. The book even goes further to explain how our bodies handle stress, and that by itself is also amazing.  It turns out we actually produce adrenaline and cortisol to combat stress when it pops up in our lives.  This sounds great, but repeated stress over and over again is not what our bodies were made for, and there are negative side effects that take place with the repeated production of adrenaline and cortisol over and over again, some of which may lead to heart attacks and strokes.

So now let me try and tie this talk about stress to my life living with ulcerative colitis. As many of you may agree, after being diagnosed with UC life is very rough and full of so much uncertainty.  Not only are we worried about our future, but we are worried about our family and our current pain, suffering, work, school, kids, family etc…  There is all kinds of uncertainty and much of that has to do with the feeling of being out of control of our bodies and specifically our ulcerative colitis symptoms.  I know that was the case for me.

What has changed for me since being diagnosed two and a half years ago, is now I feel like I’m the one making the rules, and that I’m the one in control.  No longer am I worried and stressed out about my digestive system all the time like it used to be.

After I went through trying all types of medications without any lasting luck, I started on a new diet that others had used to heal their ulcerative colitis.

I do credit the SCD Diet for the bulk of my ulcerative colitis success and stress reduction, but there have been other positive influences on my current happiness while living with UC too.  A great family, wife, and support group is always an added bonus.

Am I stress free now….no, but am I sure happy not to be worrying about UC every ten minutes like I used to….heck yeah.

To everyone who has found a way to remove or at least minimize ulcerative colitis related stress in your life, I salute you!  No matter what your solution is, diet, surgery, medications, whatever you’re doing that’s helping you to live a normal life, pat yourself on the back because you’re winning the game we all play with UC.


11 thoughts on “Stress and Ulcerative Colitis”

  1. The homeopathy Dr. we see for my daughter’s UC insists that it is some kind of stress that triggers the condition and subsequent flares. In my daughter’s case, I have noticed on a couple of occasions that it some kind of stress that triggers a minor flare, in her case accompanied by the complications of joint inflammation or Erythema Nodosum. For a long time I debunked the stress part wondering what stress a 4 year old can have but I have not realized that even kids have stress and a lot of times it is parental stress or reactions to their behavior that brings about the stress. That said, I am at a loss as to how to reduce my child’s stress and break the connection and have her completely healed. Still looking for answers but thanks for this post. It is helpful to know that the stress connection theory has validity.

  2. glad to hear you and your wife had a much needed vacation. :) i find that book very interesting. I know when i first started to see symptoms of the disease i was under alot of stress( that i couldnt control) .i know the bible talks alot about worrying,bitterness,envy stuff like that causing “rottenness to the bones” “disease of the bowels”. i wonder if stress from worrying would be put under that category. also i found in the bible ,”And after all this the LORD smote him in his bowels with an incurable disease.” I wonder if that was ulcerative colitis…..could it be genetically passed down from this dude. hmmm….makes me wonder. glad you had a good time.

    1. Thanks Jennifer, I don’t know obviously the answer to your question, but that would be pretty crazy if it was true. As for the book, it is truly incredible. thanks about your gladness on the vacation, it was super much needed, as most vacations are these days. life can be stressful, but I think we can all do things to minimize the non needed stress. that’s alot of what the books mentions in the stress chapter.

  3. I have read so many articles about IBD specifically and heard so many gastroenterologists say stress is not a factor. But I know that stress is an absolute factor in my flare ups. You can guarantee that when I get overly stressed, especially work stress, I flare every time.

  4. Adam- I am so happy I found your blog, I just recently got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis last Monday after my sigmoidoscopy, I’m currently on prednisone (40mg) a day and some other horse pill, I hate being on meds as they affect me in so many other ways and not the good ways. I’ve been on the meds for a week and a half now and I have all the same symptoms as if the meds aren’t even working, but I haven’t been changing my diet because I wasn’t instructed to. I am going to purchase the books you mentioned on your site and do my reading but I’m anxious to start the SCD!! I need any relief I can get and unlike the meds this will only become more positive than not!! Thanks for this blog it has definitely cheered me up, before tonight I felt like I was on the road to never ending pain!!!
    Thanks a bunch!!!!
    Brett Ashley

    1. Yo Brett,

      GOOD LUCK with your UC!

      Keep me posted, my email’s and i’m interested to know how things go for you.

      I was in your shoes 3 years ago, and let me tell you, IT gets BETTER. I never think I would come to be crapping hard poops again, but the colon doesn’t forget how to operate when the proper enviornment presens itself.

      Try to reduce your stress levels. That’s some advice that I wish my doctor told me long ago.
      LIke, diet, my Gi docs told me stress has nothing to do with my UC.
      Stress triggers the immune system, particularly the release of cortisol and adrenaline, which jacks up our immune systems, so if you can regain control of some parts of your life that are out of wack, it’s only going to be beneficial.

      Take care, and I wish you adn your family the best,

  5. Hey Adam. Great blog. I’ve had ulcerative colitis for about 9 years now. Symptoms started during my pediatrics rotation for PA school. Indeed, PA school was out of my control, and I was exceptionally stressed whilst in school. I graduated with a GPA of 4.0 but a hemoglobin of 11 (14-16 is normal in men). Grades were good, bathroom breaks weren’t. In PA school, of course we learn about UC. Never is stress or diet mentioned. I’ve noticed EVERY time I have a flare in my life, it is from stress, and typically situations that feel out of control for me. Currently, I’m on sulfasalazine three times a day and mesalamine enemas (woo-hoo). Due to my educational background, I’m skeptical about the diet helping. However, I’m reminded that even as recent as the 1990’s, we (Western Medicine) laughed at the idea of gastric ulcers being caused by bacteria, and now, it is accepted as fact that H. Pylori indeed is implicated in gastric ulcers, and we test and now treat for this regularly. I’m currently in a flare now, and like the first poster posted, he’ll try anything to get better, and I will too. So, I will get back to you. Thanks for the information.

    Steven R. Saldutti, DHSc, MPAS, PA-C

    1. Hey Steven,

      Glad you found us, and congrats with being a part of the medical system!
      Just as much as anything else in this world, there’s always going to be new discoveries and ideas, some that are great, others that are complete jokes. But in the end, if you can find something that works for you and keeps you feeling good, that’s the overall goal right? I hope you can put the symptoms to sleep no matter how you do it. Keep us updated on how things unfold for you, and if you make any new discoveries.

  6. I was recently diagnosed and didn’t know what I was getting into, I knew stress affected my symptoms and made them a little worse but I didn’t realise the damage stress can do. I used to notice a slight increase in pain and blood when I got stressed from work or every day life but today made me realise that was nothing. After finding out there was an issue and my unemployment benefits and rent assistance (the money I live off of) were being cut off (problem is resolved now thankfully) my stress levels sky rocketed and almost instantly I found myself running to the bathroom to find my stool was mostly blood after having little to no blood for almost a week. After managing to leave the house and resolving the money issue and calming down I am back to minimal amounts of blood. I never realised stress could have such a huge impact on my symptoms and I think it is a lesson well learned and everyone whether they have are sick or healthy should take stress seriously.

  7. Johan from Sweden

    Stress is definately a factor. I got UC when I was in my teens, obsessing about weird stuff like teens do. The reason I came here is that I seem to have gotten my second flare in six years. It’s no coincidence that it’s coming during my exams at the university. Thanks for your story, I’ll check out the diet too. For those of you who are new to UC I strongly suggest avoiding coffee and spicy food during flares. Exercise frequenty and always stay hydrated. Learn how to take a step back when the world is pushing you and making you feel stressed out(especially for a longer period of time). The latter is quite obviously something I have yet to perfect. One day though, one day….

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