Living with a chronic condition like ulcerative colitis (UC) can be a challenging, lonely experience — especially when you don’t have a support network of people who know what you’re going through.
Luckily, Amy Gipson, a registered nurse living in Arkansas, has found that support within her own family.
HealthCentral spoke with Amy, who is at the center of three generations of family dealing with UC, including her own daughter. Here she shares her experience as a parent with UC, the natural remedies that work for her, and other UC tips that may just help you to better negotiate IBD and its flare-ups.
HealthCentral (HC): I know you have a strong family history of UC. Can you tell me about when you were diagnosed, as well as your family members?
Amy Gipson: I was about 20 years old when I was diagnosed, and my mom was also diagnosed in her mid-20s. My daughter Lela was diagnosed at the age of 10.
HC: Your daughter was diagnosed when she was much younger than you were. Do you think your knowledge of the disease helped in getting her diagnosed quickly? How is she dealing with it?
Amy: I definitely think [my knowledge of the disease] helped. Looking back, I think I probably had some symptoms earlier [than my diagnosis;] they just had not completely confirmed the condition. It also helps that I am able to paint a picture for Lela of what she might experience and how I have handled some of those difficulties. She doesn’t open up to everyone about her UC, but she does have a few close friends that she will talk to about it, which helps.
HC: Are there any changes you and Lela have made in your diets that you have found to be helpful?
Amy: We have noticed that avoiding gluten and dairy is good for us, as they seem to be inflammatory. Occasionally we indulge, but we can tell when we’ve over-indulged because our symptoms will be worse. Sugar also can trigger symptoms. If we’ve had an especially high-sugar weekend, we notice more symptoms the following week.
HC: I know you have a lot of knowledge about natural remedies. Are there any that have helped with controlling symptoms for you and your daughter?
Amy: We are pretty faithful to probiotics as one of our staples. [Adding dietary supplements like] Juice Plus, [which is] basically juiced fruits, vegetables, and berries, into our diets has helped as well. It’s been researched to help your body to take in the nutrients. With UC, you’re not guaranteed that your gut is in a position to take in the nutrients from the foods that you eat, so supplements have been huge in getting those nutrients.
There are also some other things that we do for symptom control that are part of our basic toolbox. For example, we use digestive enzymes for belly aches along with some essential oils that have ginger in them that are very comforting to the gut.
HC: Do you have any additional tips to help our readers?
Amy: There is a mind-gut connection when you are dealing with any type of chronic illness. Exercise is very important tool to de-stress the mind and body. It helps to keep those good endorphins flowing whether the stress is from daily life or is physical stress on your body from a UC flare-up.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.