Colitis, also known as inflammatory bowel disease, is hard to treat and difficult to endure. Anyone with inflammation of the colon should seek a specialist’s care. Related to colitis, Crohn’s disease might be considered a type of colitis except that any part of the gastrointestinal system can be involved, not just the large bowel. In both inflammatory conditions, the immune system runs amok and attacks the digestive tract. Scientists still don’t understand the causes nor do they have a cure. Foods or home remedies are not substitutes for medical treatment. Nevertheless, you will be surprised at some of the success stories you read below.
Favorite Food #6: Pineapple
Think of Hawaii, and chances are you will think of this delicious tropical fruit, known by the botanical name Ananas comosus. Nutritionally, the pineapple is rich in vitamin C and manganese, but the medicinal effects probably come primarily from its bromelain content.
Bromelain is the compound responsible for pineapple’s ability to break down protein. (This is why fresh or frozen pineapple added to a gelatin mold will turn it to soup. Cooks use canned pineapple in Jell-O for this reason.) Bromelain can do far more than dissolve gelatin, though. Early on, it was reputed to be a beneficial digestive enzyme, perhaps similar to the papain derived from papayas.
More recent research in mice has demonstrated that bromelain can calm inflammatory bowel disease. It does this by affecting how white blood cells respond to inflammatory triggers.1
Many readers have reported that bromelain can also be helpful for inflamed joints. This may be due to its ability to inhibit COX-2, the same enzyme that is blocked by the prescription arthritis drug Celebrex.2 However, when put to the test in people who experience moderate to severe osteoarthritis in their knees, bromelain came up short.3
Nevertheless, according to reported studies, scientists have found some intriguing anticancer properties of bromelain.4 It’s pretty unlikely that simply eating pineapple will be able to ward off cancer, but given this basic research, it makes sense to include pineapple among the fresh fruits eaten as part of an overall healthful diet.
Favorite Food #7: Coconut
Coconuts defy logic. How did somebody see that hard, hairy specimen and imagine something delicious inside? It may be that people living in the tropics where coconuts grow (and where travelers are often visited by “Montezuma’s revenge”) quickly made the discovery that coconuts are excellent for soothing digestive upset.
In fact, one of our readers told us, “My grandmother was the medicine woman in our village [in Nicaragua]. She used to give me coconut milk for diarrhea or parasites, the younger the coconut the better.” Over the years, we’ve heard of coconut remedies for everything from traveler’s diarrhea to irritable bowel syndrome to Crohn’s disease. (Always keep in mind, however, that eating too much coconut can lead to constipation.)
Coconut comes in many delicious incarnations. (Coconut cream pie, anyone?) Gluten-and dairy-free coconut macaroons are made by several companies, including the ever-popular Archway and Jennies brands. Two cookies per day seem to decrease diarrhea dramatically. If you have trouble finding this product in your local grocery or online, you can always bake your own batch. Other coconut treats include Mounds bars and coconut ice cream or sorbet.
But people watching their sugar consumption or their weight—two cookies per day can add a lot of extra calories, after all—don’t have to take their medicine in the form of a dessert. Sprinkle shredded coconut into yogurt or oatmeal, or sip coconut milk.
Coconut water—Vita Coco, O.N.E., and ZICO brands, for example—is also becoming more widely available in the United States. We haven’t yet heard from anyone who has tried coconut water to calm a wrathful GI tract. But coconut water is lower in calories than any other coconut-related option and may be worth a try if concerns about your gut involve more than what’s happening inside it.
Thank you for writing about coconut for treating ulcerative colitis. I was diagnosed with colitis in 1980 and had three feet of my colon removed. My condition was moderate to severe, and I was taking eight tablets of sulfasalazine every day to control it, along with Rowasa enemas daily. I started eating shredded coconut twice a day after reading your article, though I had no expectation it would help. Within a month, I had gone into complete remission. A year later, I had a colonoscopy showing a healthy colon. I gradually cut back my medication and have not taken anything for the condition for five years. I feel well and have had no GI problems. I read that coconut has anti-inflammatory properties and think it must be true.
We have heard from others who suffered from severe diarrhea associated with inflammatory bowel disease that coconut macaroon cookies or shredded coconut alone can be helpful. We doubt that many people with ulcerative colitis would respond as dramatically as you have, but we certainly are delighted to learn that this remedy was beneficial for such a serious condition.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic