Ulcerative colitis: Does drinking alcohol make it worse?
Some studies have appeared to show both harmful and beneficial effects of alcoholic drinks in someone who has ulcerative colitis (UC). However, newer studies mainly illustrate the detrimental effects of alcohol.
The recommendation is to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages, as a general rule. Alcohol irritates the digestive tract in similar ways to UC, and combining the two may make symptoms worse.
While some people with UC may be able to consume alcohol, others should avoid it altogether.
With that said, some people may not feel the effects of an occasional drink.
Studies have looked into both the positive and negative aspects of drinking alcohol with UC, as we explain below.
Studies do not show that drinking alcohol increases the risk of UC.
An extensive study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology studied 304,000 people on a specific health care plan. Their research found that people who drank alcohol had a lower risk of UC.
This research, dating from 1989, suggests that alcohol may protect a person from UC. However, there are not many high-quality, contemporary studies that share these results.
It may also be the case that there is simply no effect from drinking alcohol.
A systematic review in the journal Medicine compiled information about the link between UC and alcohol. After comparing 16 studies, the research found that there was no significant link between drinking alcohol and the risk of UC.
There is a body of research that says alcohol may not be the best thing for the body, specifically for the digestive system. As UC is a disorder that affects the digestive system, there might be a link between the two.
As a review in the journal Annals of Gastroenterology notes, alcohol causes inflammation and is directly harmful to the gut barrier function. These factors are important for people with UC, as the disease also causes inflammation and affects how well the body can absorb nutrients.
The researchers here noted that alcohol consumption might provoke symptoms or a relapse in a person who has inflammatory bowel disease.
The review also noted that there was a link between higher alcohol intake and higher rates of relapse in people with UC.
There may also be a link between the sulfites in alcoholic beverages and UC. The review noted that people who drank wine and beer containing sulfites had a higher risk of disease activity or relapse.
As both alcohol and UC have similar effects in the digestive tract, these effects may compound each other and make symptoms worse.
Built up inflammation and increased gut permeability may cause some people to experience a sudden attack or relapse of their symptoms. In the long term, the person may be more at risk for issues with their liver.
With this said, no two cases of UC are exactly alike, and what affects one person may not affect another as much. People with UC who choose to drink should pay attention to any new symptoms that arise and take action to prevent complications. They may also choose not to drink.
There are several treatments for UC, and people with the disease may also need to be careful about how alcohol could affect their treatments and medications. The effects may be either directly, by the interaction with the medication, or indirectly, by the creation of more inflammation in the area.
A doctor may recommend prescription medications to treat inflammation.
There are some prescription treatments that doctors recommend for UC.
Their main goal is to control inflammation that leads to symptoms and to induce remission.
Medications doctors may recommend for UC include:
- Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs): Drugs that help reduce inflammation in mild or moderate cases of UC.
- Corticosteroids: These help reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system. Doctors typically recommend steroids for people with moderate to severe UC, and the drugs are only for short-term use.
- Immunomodulators: These drugs suppress the body's immune system to prevent ongoing inflammation.
- Biologics: These are drugs that suppress the immune system in more specific ways than other immunomodulators. Doctors may reserve biologics for cases where a person does not respond well to other therapies.
- Antibiotics: Doctors may use some antibiotics to treat infections or other complications from UC symptoms.
Doctors may consider surgery in cases where the person does not respond to medication. In most cases, surgery for UC involves a proctocolectomy, which is the removal of a piece or all of the colon and rectum.
Doctors may also recommend using other nonprescription medications and home remedies to help manage symptoms.
Over-the-counter (OTC) antidiarrheal medications may help people manage symptoms in the short term. However, most are not for long-term use. People should avoid taking these medications for more than brief periods without consulting a doctor.
Similarly, OTC pain relievers may help people successfully manage pain they feel from their condition.
These drugs may carry their own long-term risks. A person should always speak with a doctor about the risks of using any medication for long periods.
Most doctors will also recommend a person take nutritional supplements. This is because UC affects how the body absorbs nutrients, and it is important to replenish them.
Replacing sugary drinks with herbal teas can help improve UC symptoms.
Diet may play a significant role in managing symptoms or preventing flare-ups from UC. Each person should work with their doctor or dietitian to help them identify and avoid trigger foods that lead to flare-ups. These trigger foods will vary between individuals.
While the exact diet may change in each case, some general tips may be good for most people. For instance, a review in the journal Medicine notes that eating more fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of UC.
The research also notes that soft drinks appear to increase the risk of UC. Reducing soft-drink intake or replacing sodas with other drinks, such as herbal tea and water, might be a good step towards a healthier diet for UC.
People with UC may also find other dietary habits through experience. For instance, they may find that spicy foods aggravate their symptoms where soft, bland foods do not.
There are alternative therapies that people can try to help manage their symptoms.
While not all therapies will achieve similar results in each person, it is important to discuss all treatment methods with a doctor. Some natural or alternative therapies may affect how well traditional therapy works.
While it is uncertain if light drinking has long-term effect on people with UC, the current recommendation is for people with the disease to avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol causes inflammation and harms the gut barrier, which are similar symptoms to those of UC.
However, the UC takes a different course in each person, and some people may not be as affected as others by light alcohol consumption. In any case, talking with a doctor about a person's alcohol consumption may help them avoid triggers and manage symptoms.