What Effect Does Ulcerative Colitis Have on the Brain?

Bleeding, kissing the toilet seat with your gluteus maxer for hours on end, running to the pharmacy to fill that latest prescription, and filling up on toilet paper is all a part of living with UC.  We can probably all agree on that.   Even if you don’t have UC but made it to this site…I’m thinking you probably agree as well.  This is mostly colon related thinking.  And sure, it’s a darn important organ.  But there are folks, many who have shared their stories on iHaveUC who don’t even have a colon anymore.  And they’re doing just fine…  Check out our Southern Cali rockstar Curtis(here’s the interview I did with him a ways back – video clip), it’s safe to say he’s a normal camper without his final poop pipe right?  (The answer’s a big fat “YES”, if you paddle-board in the waters off San Diego…you’ve probably seen him flying around with the sealife, Way to Go Big Curtis :)

But have you ever wondered…

What is ulcerative colitis doing to my brain?

(Or your kid’s, husband’s, sister’s, co-worker’s, neighbor’s brain…)

It’s a tuffy question to think about.  I don’t even think the author of my second favorite book “Brain Rules” would have the final answer.  Dr. John Medina, you world class neurologist, what’s the answer señor?  Hook the UC’ers of the world up por favor!

****UPDATE:  January 26th…Dr. John Medina responded to my email regarding this post, his response is below in the comments section***!!!

Let’s Get to the Facts – And there’s Some Great News!

If you’ve been following PubMed, there was a recent study released just a few days ago and I think we should all be pretty relieved.

But, before I get into that…can you guess where this study was conducted…HINT HINT:  here are the names of the doctors/scientists who conducted it:

  • Alessandro Agostini
  • Massimo Campieri
  • Angela Bertani
  • Antonella Scarcelli
  • Daniela Ballotta
  • Carlo Calabrese
  • Fernando Rizzello
  • Paolo Gionchetti
  • Paolo Nichelli
  • Francesca Benuzzi

Let’s see if your brain is working now…which country is responsible for this study?

A) Germany B) United States C) Japan D) Italy

(Answer is at the end of this posting)

Change in the Gray Matter?

The title of their study is:

Absence of change in the gray matter volume of patients with ulcerative colitis in remission: a voxel based morphometry study

And, as you might have guessed, they tried to determine if patients with ulcerative colitis have something different going on with parts of the brain compared to “normal” folks or “controls” as they usually call them in these types of studies.

Hey Italianos…good job for checking into this for us!  I’d love to buy you a cappuccino or some pasta next time we run into each other.  Or maybe some of those crazy sunglasses you all seem to like so much…

After getting through the nitty gritty, or the details of their study, I was breathing a definite sigh of relief.  And I think you will be too.  It appears that between the 18 UC patients and 18 healthy “controls”, there was very very little difference in the variables they were examining within the brain.  Awesome right!!

Way to go Luigi and Mario!

So for sure we should celebrate this news.  And more than that, they have a pretty interesting follow up request which we all could use some clarification on too.  What they figured afterwards was that to make their study results even more meaningful, they need to do more investigating with a slightly difference audience.

For example, the UC patients who were part of their study all were in remission or Very minor states of active ulcerative colitis symptoms.  And these patients in remission were studied while in remission.  That’s all great right, but for the gang of us who have UC for a long time, or even just a short while, we know that life can be quite different while in the middle of active symptoms.  So here’s the final line of their study in the conclusion part,

Further research involving patients with different degrees of disease severity or during flares could shed more light on potential brain structural changes in UC.

So once again, big congrats to the work being done to shed more light on our disease.  There’s lots more work happening and even more in the pipeline, so keep in tune.  I’ll try to keep you all up to date on news regarding this particular topic and more, mainly through the site’s newsletter and similar postings from time to time.

If you have any questions or comments, most definitely write a comment below.  I’m going to forward the link to this posting on to Alessandro Agostini who was the main contact for the study, and who knows, maybe he has an update for us on what to expect next.

If you’d like to read the full study, please check it out here:


or you can read the abstract (short version) on pubmed here:



I wish you all the very best in the coming days, and may your brain have a great week along with your colon,

Adam Scheuer


the answer earlier was……..”D” — Italy…(yay, relax…your brain is working just fine:)

the answer to everything else is in the – free newsletter



6 thoughts on “What Effect Does Ulcerative Colitis Have on the Brain?”

  1. Happy to hear this! Although sometimes when I am having symptoms I really feel like I have UC brain fog, anyone else feel this way?

  2. One more thing…we UCers never let ourselves get low on the old ‘TP’ do we???

    Lol…even in remission, I have a cupboard always full of it!!

  3. I’m so glad someone is concentrating on the brain…while UC is my primary auto immune (I have 4 others) my brain has definitely left the building. Yet my team of specialists can’t seem to figure out why I can’t remember where I live or if I took my meds this morning. Short term memory loss and confusion isn’t recognised as a symptom of UC or my other auto immunes or as a side effect of my many meds. As this happens during remission and flares it seems to be here to stay though.

  4. will I think that when ever someone is feeling unwell they have brain fog. regardless if it is UC, Crohns. or the common cold. being sick makes your brain go to mud sometimes.

  5. Wow folks, I sent out to Dr. John Medina (the ultra cool moloecular biologist / neurologist / author of Brain Rules) a question following up on where I called him out in the post above and…

    like the awesome person that he is, he wrote back this reply, which I’ll paste in full for all of you to peep out too, looks promising for more good info on the way:

    “Hello Adam;

    Thanks for your note.

    The literature seems to describe both direct and indirect interactions. Here’s a quick summary:

    There is a great deal of research activity attempting to elucidate the molecular interactions behind the so-called brain-gut pathway. How these relate to pathologies like UC and IBD are not well-characterized – and the results are not yet ready for prime time – but progress is being made. Here’s a recent reference on the subject:

    Filipovic & Filipovic
    World J Gastroent 20(13): 3552-3563

    There is plenty of literature about indirect effects. Because the pain can be so devastating in UC, the social impact so difficult, the lack of a clear mechanism still so evident, managing stress becomes a major factor in a UC person’s life. The risk for psychopathologies, such as depression and anxiety is high. As you may recall from Brain Rules, it really isn’t the stress that causes all the cognitive turbulence, it is the feeling of being out of control. With diseases like UC and IBD, that’s exactly what you have. Here’s an older reference on the subject:

    Kurina et al
    J Epid Com Health 55(10): 716-720

    Hope this helps!


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