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Colostomy can be a life-saving procedure, but its after-care can be complicated and unpleasant. A new medical food helps relieve one of the most common problems after the colostomy procedure. Lifestyle changes may protect against the need for it.

"I have diarrhea," colostomy patient Eva Dennis complained. "I have diarrhea all the time."

Even worse, whenever there was even a tiny spill from the colostomy bag onto her skin, Eva's skin would burn as if she had splashed battery acid on it. When fecal matter leaked under the seal, the bag could even break, causing leading to an unpleasant cleanup and a serious acid burn.

Many Gastrointestinal Conditions Involve Constant Inflammation

Although Eva's problem is relatively common among people who have had a colostomy, there are many other gastrointestinal conditions that also lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, abnormal bowel function, and malabsorption of nutrients. Inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcers, duodenal ulcers, and gastroenteritis are just a few of the chronic conditions that a fueled by irritation of the lining of the bowel that may necessitate a colostomy. These symptoms are also all too common in elite athletes, particularly in athletes who pursue long-distance endurance sports such as marathon racing, Iron-Man and Iron-Woman competitions, and long-distance skiing and rowing competitions.

Doctors treat these conditions with NSAID pain relievers, immunomodulators (drugs that reduce the power of the immune system), and even genetically engineered antibodies that bind to inflammatory hormones, but digestive inflammation can also be treated with medicinal food.

Serum-Derived Bovine Immunoglobulin/Protein Isolate.

The latest innovation in medicinal foods for treating gastrointestinal inflammation is serum-derived bovine immunoglobulin/protein isolate. This product is essentially a collection of immune particles extracted from beef blood. It is not unique. There are other products made with immune globulins found in beef and pork products, but it does seem to be more effective than other products, in that a recent clinical study found that 10 out of 10 users improved (less diarrhea, less inflammation of the pouch made by surgeons after a colostomy) after using the product for two to three weeks.

When the colon and rectum have to be removed due to ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease, ischemic bowel disease, or some other form of inflammatory bowel disease, surgeons often leave a "pouch" for digested food to accumulate before excretion in a colostomy bag. The problem with the pouch is that it does not have the mucosal barrier of a normal, functioning colon. In a healthy person, the friendly, probiotic bacteria of the colon form the first line of defense against infection and inflammation. The body is also protected by the lining of the colon itself, which is permeable enough to permit the movement of digested nutrients but "tight" enough to avoid "leaking." Underlying the colon is the lymphatic system, which is a third line of defense against infections that can cause irritation and inflammation.

In colostomy, all three layers of defense against bacteria and inflammatory agents in the large intestine are compromised, and the result can be the pain, swelling, abdominal distension, and diarrhea associated with bacterial imbalance. Bovine immune globulins replace some of the immune function previously provided by the lymphatic system and relieve some of the symptoms associated with colostomy.

It Isn't Just Colostomy That Can Disturb Bowel Function

Several other conditions cause similar symptoms. Duodenal ulcers, overuse of NSAID pain relievers, irritable bowel syndrome, and HIV can all damage the lining of the large intestine so that it becomes "leaky" and inflamed.

More Methods for Bowel Health

Alteration of the bacterial balance of the colon can even result in chronic depression and fatigue. Any condition involving chronic diarrhea lowers quality of life, and the general drain of constant symptoms sets the stage for serious complications of the previously mentioned bowel diseases. What most doctors won't tell their patients is that many, many other conditions, from atherosclerosis to excessive exercise, cause similar symptoms, and serum-derived bovine immunoglobulin/protein isolate, however, is not the only medicinal food that may help. Ways to deal with diarrhea, abdominal swelling, abdominal pain, and poor nutrient absorption include:

  • Lactoferrin. If you can't afford serum-derived immunoglobulin/protein isolate, you probably can afford lactoferrin, an over the counter supplement that performs many of the same functions.
  • Adequate hydration. You don't have to drink water until you slosh, but you do need to make sure you do not become dehydrated during heat or heavy exercise. The proteins that keep the lining of the bowel from "leaking" are stressed during dehydration.

  • Graduated training. Weekend warriors are more prone to bowel problems. A heavy workout for which your body is not prepared can activate heat shock proteins, which break down the lining of the bowel.
  • Short intense exercise, rather than long, moderate exercise. An astonishing number of elite athletes develop bowel conditions, sometimes serious bowel conditions that can result in hospitalization or even death. Usually the problem is a combination of dehydration and prolonged stress, running a marathon or participating in an Iron-Man or Iron-Woman competition. Dehydration leads to lower fluid volume, lower fluid volume leads to poorer blood flow through the inferior mesenteric artery to the left side of the colon, and poor circulation to the colon leads to severe inflammation of the lining of the colon. Treating this kind of inflammation will require intravenous fluids and, usually, antibiotics, and sometimes even colostomy, despite the absence of earlier symptoms of bowel disease. If you participate in an endurance sport, you need to pay careful attention to gut health, both by maintaining hydration and by appropriate attention to friendly bacteria.
  • A strain of bacteria called Akkermansia muciniphila helps renew the mucous lining of your colon. You don't need to take it as a supplement, but it can help to "feed" it with the fibers it uses for food. This restorative bacterium feeds on the fibers found in onions, garlic, bananas, and yams.
  • The kinds of bacteria that make an anti-inflammatory compound called butyrate thrive of amylopectin, a kind of resistant starch. This kind of starch is not easily broken down into sugar that raises blood sugar levels, but survives passage to the stomach to go to the colon (or, in the case of people who have had colostomies) pouch, where it feeds anti-inflammatory bacteria. Resistant starch is found in well-boiled potatoes, well-boiled (not steamed) white (not brown) rice, and cooked plantains. These carbohydrate foods are beneficial in the diet not because they feed you, but because they feed your bacteria.

If you have inflammatory bowel disease and you have had a colostomy, you will benefit from these simple interventions. If you are a serious athletic competitor and haven't had a colostomy (and don't want to ever have to have one), you will also benefit from these simple interventions. Even people in excellent physical condition need to pay attention to bowel health, especially before they participate in high-stress, high-performance athletic competition.

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