Ulcerative colitis affects approximately 100 out of 100,000 people in the United States. Genetic disposition and food sensitivities are common causes. The disease can lead to colon cancer and related conditions of irritable bowel disease and ulcerative Crohn’s disease. Conventional western medicine has no satisfactory cure or treatment for these conditions other than steroids or surgery, but a simple thousands-of-years-old herbal formula with no adverse side effects, broad health benefits, and cheap cost can give relief and possibly even cure when other approaches fail.
Making the distinction between ulcerative colitis disease, irritable bowel disease or ulcerative Crohn’s disease is not so simple. Crohn’s disease, regarded by some as an auto-immune condition, can cause ulceration and problems throughout any part of the GI tract from the esophagus to the anus. Further, Crohn’s may be accompanied by arthritis and symptoms of depression. Irritable bowel disease and ulcerative colitis involve only the large intestine. Irritable bowel disease manifests as abnormal symptoms of pain, cramping and other disorders but without inflammation and bleeding. Ulcerative colitis, however, is associated with pain and bloody diarrhea.
Recently I had a long-time patient revisit with severe symptoms of chronic ulcerative colitis. This condition afflicted him and his sister for years, suggesting a genetic component to the disease. His symptoms of pain and bloody diarrhea were so extreme that oftentimes he had to suffer from the embarrassment of not being able to make it to the toilet in time.
This man, who appeared strong and fit in all other ways, was in his late 20s to early 30s. He was a vegetarian, adept at yoga, formerly highly successful in a start-up computer company venture, and had no arthritis or depression symptoms, ruling out Crohn’s disease. He did, however, exhibit the severe bleeding, diarrhea and pain characterized by advanced and severe ulcerative colitis.
Over the course of my 40-year practice I had only one other patient with such a severe case of UCD, I was unable to affect a cure with this woman, who eventually moved to Los Angeles and underwent first steroid therapy and finally colon surgery, which are the two primary modes for conventional western treatment.
While western herbal medicine has very limited approach to such chronic conditions, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does offer a number of possible approaches and formulas for treatment based on a differential diagnosis of a number of symptoms and patterns. Applying these principles, I was able to achieve temporary success in helping this manyto gain control of his condition. However, for various reasons such as cost and accessibility, these were not always available or convenient.
Due to the extreme and frequent loss of blood, reported an uncharacteristic low energy and possible anemia. He also had extreme cold sensitivity which caused me to suspect from a TCM perspective a condition of Spleen Yang Deficiency. I was able to convince him over time to include more animal protein in his diet to help him regain his strength. Though he felt markedly better, neither this nor a number of other self-imposed changes such as a diet free refined sugar, dairy, soy and wheat had an affect on his ulcerative colitis.
Although acupuncture and moxibustion proved to be temporarily effective, it was clear after many treatments that this was not to be a lasting cure.
Nearly 20 years ago, I was singularly responsible for introducing the Ayurvedic formula Triphala into the western herb industry. Because of its broad benefit for cleansing the liver and entire GI tract and the fact that its three ingredients, consisting of emblic (amla), beleric (bibhitaki) and chebulic (haritaki) myrobalan fruits correspond to the three humours of Ayurveda, Triphala has risen to become the top-selling formula in the Planetary Herbal line. Indeed, because Triphala is known to detoxify the entire body without causing any weakness or dependency, it is the foundation herbal treatment for all conditions in Ayurveda.
One of the common indications for Triphala is chronic constipation. It is the only formula I have found to be effective for laxative-dependent constipation. Despite the fact that Triphala has such a normalizing effect on the intestines and is good for constipation, it is not considered a laxative by Ayurvedic physicians. In fact, it is considered to be equally effective for treating diarrhea as well as constipation; even so, I was always reluctant to prescribe it when patients had diarrhea, let alone as a primary treatment for chronic ulcerative colitis.
Once again this man, recently returned from Hawaii (he always did best in warm climate), came to my office without an appointment, desperately seeking relief for symptoms of pain and out-of-control bloody diarrhea.
This was on a Friday evening and with not much time I decided to give him Triphala capsules. Not certain this would be enough to remedy his condition I instructed him to drive to Berkeley and purchase bilva (also known as bael) fruit, a known Ayurvedic treatment for diarrhea and dysentery, to take together with Triphala.
We made an appointment to see each other again on Monday.
On Monday afternoon he came in for his appointment grinning from ear to ear and said he was symptom free. As it turned out, he was unable to get to Berkeley and purchase the herb I suggested so on Saturday he commenced taking 9 “00” sized capsules constituting several grams of triphala powder daily, three or more times throughout the day. By the end of Sunday and Monday, the pain, the bleeding and diarrhea stopped completely.
He continues to take lower maintenance doses of Triphala daily. Because Triphala is widely available either in powder (churna) capsule or pill form, it offers the benefit of at least preventing all symptoms of ulcerative colitis and possible long-term cure of this dreadful condition.
Furthermore, one of the fears of colon cancer that can occur with long term ulcerative colitis is mitigated with Triphala’s anti-cancer properties. Last, but not least, the three fruits of Triphala are nutrient dense and impervious to the effects of aging and heat, and constitute one of the richest source of life-affirming antioxidants. This is why Triphala is prescribed to all patients by Ayurvedic doctors and it is why traditionally it is regarded as a household item throughout India.
Triphala is the most prized formula of India’s 5000-year-old Ayurvedic tradition. The origin of its fruits, especially Haritaki (Chebulic myrobalan) is steeped in lore with it being the single cure-all botanical depicted on Tibetan thangkas as being held in the hand of the Medicine Buddha. Only as one begins to understand the profound healing virtues of this formula can one understand the common folk saying of Indian people: “No mother? No worry so long as you have Triphala.”
To learn more about irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and Triphala I encourage you to check out the following sites:
IBD And IBS Have Similar Symptoms -- How Can We Tell Them Apart?
The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs by Michael Tierra and K.P. Khalsa (Lotus Press)
Ayurvedic Medicine by Sebastian Pole (Elsevier)
Ayurveda: The Divine Science of Life by Todd Caldecott (Mosby)
The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia by Swami Sadashiva Tirtha (AHC Press)