Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Expert Opinion: Diverticulosis

Treating GI Disorders

Q: Can you comment on another inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis?

A: Ulcerative colitis is another inflammatory disease of the intestines, which affects the colon. It can affect other organs in the body, but primarily affects the colon, not the small intestine. In this disease, there is ulceration of the lining of the colon, called the mucosa, and these ulcerations and inflammation cause bleeding, diarrhea and pain. There is an effective medical therapy to quiet down the disease.

Ulcerative colitis cannot be cured, and even when it subsides due to medications, it usually comes back sometime later. If the disease is serious and does not respond to treatment, the colon will start to dilate, and there is a risk that it will perforate. In extreme cases, the colon is taken out.

Although there is no dietary therapy for this kind of disorder, it is important for people with ulcerative colitis to maintain proper nutrition. However, when patients are taking medicine for severe inflammation, they often don't feel like eating and can find it difficult to maintain good eating habits. But diet does not cure, nor does it affect, the course of the disease itself.

Q: As a medical practitioner, what is your view on alternative therapies for GI disorders?

A: Gastrointestinal disorders must be treated by means and methods that have been fully investigated and proven to be helpful and not cause excess damage. A lot of the so-called alternative or complementary medicine methods have not been adequately researched, and thus we do not know their impact or potential damage. For instance, a lot of people take herbs, but we don't know what they do in the body. We don't know the nature of these herbs, and a lot of people have gastrointestinal problems from these herbs that they don't associate with them.

There are other practices such as taking coffee enemas, or other enemas containing all kinds of things, that supposedly cleanse the body. You cannot. There is no such thing as cleansing the body. In the normal course of eating and absorption, stool is eliminated. Enemas with coffee or other materials are not going to cleanse the body. The stool has to come out, and the way it should come out is by regulating bowel movements, by following an appropriate diet and - in extreme cases - by taking an enema. But putting all kinds of materials into an enema does not necessarily help, and sometimes it can be harmful.

Q: What about things like acupuncture, reflexology, Yoga or raw food diets?

A: Acupuncture, reflexology and raw foods have not been proven to be helpful against gastrointestinal disorders. Now, we should not confuse the issue of feeling well by doing something with curing or controlling a disease. For instance, a lot of people like to have a massage. It makes them feel good, it may make them feel relaxed, but that does not cure gastrointestinal diseases or any other diseases. And this confusion has to be avoided, because we're seeing people who are relying on these highly questionable and potentially harmful therapies instead of following the appropriate medical treatments.