How does anyone who’s got ulcerative colitis go fishing on a friend’s boat in the summertime…backpack along the foot hills of the Smokey Mountains with grandkids…sit through an important three-hour lunch meeting?

The answer is, they probably don’t. For anyone with full-blown ulcerative colitis (or UC), life is tied to the bathroom. A UC patient spends much of the day managing symptoms like chronic diarrhea (with bloody stools sometimes up to 10-20 times a day), bloating, intestinal pain, and even fever.

That’s why new research out of Japan this week caught my eye. It showed that by restoring the gut’s “natural balance” of good bacteria, UC sufferers significantly improve their quality of life.

Going from bad to worse

A form of “irritable bowel disease,” UC often first appears in early adulthood. Patients go through periods of flare-ups, searching everywhere for answers. Over time, the symptoms can get worse and more serious. Because their body doesn’t properly digest food, the UC patient doesn’t get the nutrients needed to fight off disease. As the years pass with no cure, UC patients become increasingly at risk for developing anemia, autoimmune disorders, and even colon cancer.

Many family doctors just don’t know how to help their patients live with—much less overcome—this insufferable disease. While it’s common to prescribe drugs to help relieve the symptoms, these provide little relief (not to mention serious side effects).

But the new Japanese study has shown there is a possible natural solution. It’s really nothing new…but now there’s more hard scientific data to back up what nutritionists have been preaching for years.

Start getting more “good bacteria”

In the Guide to Good Health, I’ve talked often about maintaining “good bacteria” (also known as intestinal flora) in your gut. These tiny microorganisms help you digest food. They also defend against toxins and keep your digestive tract running smoothly. It’s also your first line of defense against disease.

Normally, your digestive tract is lined with billions of good bacteria. But antibiotics or diarrhea (experienced chronically by UC patients) can wipe out these healthy bugs. The good news is, you can replenish your body’s natural supply with probiotic supplements.

Why not just eat yogurt?

Probiotic supplements contain billions of units of good bacteria. Two common types are called acidophilus or bifidobacterium longum (known as BIFI).

There’s also a lesser-known microorganism—called a prebiotic—that helps the probiotic work better. Prebiotics (such as fructo-oligo-saccharides and psyllium) are carbohydrates that support the growth and activity of probiotics. When you take probiotics and prebiotics together, it’s called “synbiotics.”

Some people think eating “active culture” yogurt like Activia gives you all that you need. But unfortunately, these products only contain a fraction of the good bacteria your body needs on a daily basis. Plus—they usually contain so much sugar, it’s not worth the bother.

Divide and conquer

Japanese researchers wanted to see if supplementing with these beneficial microorganisms would improve symptoms for about 120 UC sufferers. Patients were divided into three groups and given:

1. prebiotic psyllium (8 grams)
2. probiotic bifidobacterium longum (2 billion colony forming units)
3. synbiotic (meaning the patients got both the prebiotic and probiotic)

Each patient followed the regiment for four weeks. Researchers found that patients taking just a prebiotic or probiotic alone did not significantly improve their quality of life.

On the other hand, patients following the synbiotic approach (meaning they received both types of microorganisms) experienced a significant boost in quality of life. Their bowel function improved and their emotional health improved as well. Interestingly, the researchers also noted decreases in the levels of a protein associated with inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP) in the synbiotic group.

If you try it, keep me posted

Now—this study certainly has its short-comings. For instance, there was no group receiving a placebo (or sugar pill) to compare against. Also, the researchers based their findings on patient questionnaires rather than an endoscopy (which would have measured the actual physical outcome in the colon and intestine). Questionnaires can be unreliable for obvious reasons.

But overall, there is definitely hope that anyone suffering from UC can find relief by naturally restoring more “good bacteria” in their digestive tract. If you want to try a probiotic for yourself, I would recommend L. acidophilus in a capsule or powder. You can even find these in Walmart nowadays. Get the strongest dosage possible (in the billions of units or CFSs).

You’ll also want to make sure to take these supplements before meals and at bedtime. And don’t worry…you can’t overdose of probiotics. Any unused amounts are just flushed out of your system. For a prebiotic, go for 8 grams of psyllium daily (just like in the Japanese study).

Lastly, I would also recommend taking aloe juice, as it has a long history of calming bowel problems. Give yourself at least 2-4 weeks to notice a difference. And if you do get results—good or bad—make sure to e-mail me and let me know how it’s going.