If you have a condition such as Ulcerative Colitis, it’s important to understand the etiology of your disease to be able to treat it properly. A question we are frequently asked about UC is if it is an autoimmune condition. The short answer is yes, but it’s important to understand what that means for your treatment plan. First, let’s review what exactly an autoimmune disease is.
An autoimmune disease is defined as a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakes its own healthy tissues as foreign and attacks them. With Ulcerative Colitis, the body recognizes harmless gut bacteria as an enemy and attacks the tissues in the colon. This process causes a buildup of inflammation and can lead to sores, or ulcers, in the affected area. Because UC is recognized as an autoimmune condition, the treatment methods generally target the immune response within your body.
Immune-targeted treatments attempt to modify the body’s response to perceived “enemies” and reduce the immune system’s attack on healthy tissue. The most common immune-targeted treatments for UC are biologics and Immunomodulators.
Biologic medications are made from a wide variety of products derived from animal or human compounds. They are designed to block specific steps in the immune response and prevent subsequent inflammation. The most common biologics for UC are anti-TNF agents. Some examples are listed below.
- Adalimumab (Humira)
- Adalimumab-atto (Amjevita)
- Adalimumab-adbm (Cyltezo)
- Golimumab (Simponi)
- Infliximab (Remicade)
Immunomodulators are designed to modify the immune response and decrease inflammation in the gut. These medications are typically used as a long-term treatment option as it may take 3-6 months or longer to see improvement. Some examples of Immunomodulators are listed below.
- Methotrexate (Otrexup, Rasuvo, Rheumatrex, Trexall)
- Azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran)
- Mercaptopurine (Purinethol, Purixan)
- Cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune)
- Tacrolimus (Prograf)
Biologics and Immunomodulators work in similar ways to suppress the immune response in the gut. Suppressing the immune response helps to prevent inflammation buildup and, therefore, decrease your UC symptoms. However, these medications typically work best in conjunction with diet therapy for UC. Now that the connection between UC and the immune system is clear, you may be wondering how this affects your long-term health.
Does UC weaken your immune system?
Although Ulcerative Colitis is an auto-immune condition, research shows that having UC does not make you immunocompromised. However, some UC medications may influence your immune system since they work to alter the way your immune system responds to perceived “enemies”. Each medication affects your immune system differently, so be sure to check with your doctor to know your risk.
The bottom line
Knowing UC is an autoimmune condition is helpful in deciding the correct treatment plan for you. It’s important to know that the inflammation in your body is not directly caused by your actions, but instead your body’s unwarranted response to those actions. However, a combination of medication and nutrition therapy should deter the immune response and tame inflammation enough to allow periods of long-term remission.
Kaitlyn Willwerth is a Registered Dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. Kaitlyn's work focuses on providing individualized health and lifestyle coaching and, most importantly, support. She is a Certified LEAP Therapist and has also completed the Monash University 'Low FODMAP Diet for IBS' online training course for health professionals.