Your digestive system plays a vital role in your overall health and includes several organs, most notably your stomach and intestines.
Your small intestines do most of the work absorbing nutrients from the food you eat, but your large intestine (made up primarily of your colon) is also essential.
The colon absorbs fluids and promotes healthy bowel movements.
If your colon becomes inflamed, it impacts not only your physical health but your quality of life as well.
If you’re wondering which foods can help heal your colon, then this article is for you.
What is colon inflammation?
Your colon is the longest part of your large intestine and plays an important role in your digestion.
The colon is around six feet long, and its primary job is to remove fluid, electrolytes, and some nutrients from partially-digested food. Once the water and nutrients are removed, the remaining substance (solid stool) is removed from your rectum, the last part of the large intestine.
The medical term for colon inflammation is colitis. Like any organ, your colon can become inflamed, which is your immune system’s way of protecting you from an irritant or threat.
Colon inflammation can also occur from chronic diseases of the digestive system, which we’ll cover soon.
Signs of colon inflammation
Colitis, or colon inflammation, can present several symptoms, such as:
- Intense pain in your stomach area (stomach cramping)
- Tenderness in your abdomen
- Stomach bloating
- Rapid, unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in your bowel habits, typically increased frequency
- Urgency to defecate
- Unable to defecate despite having the urge
- Swelling of your colon tissue (can be diagnosed with medical tests such as a colonoscopy)
- Ulcers on your colon which may bleed (common with ulcerative colitis)
- Mucus and/or blood in your stool; rectal bleeding
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
What causes colon inflammation?
The most common cause of colon inflammation is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Other potential causes of colon inflammation can include infection of the colon and blood loss from the colon.
Left untreated, chronic inflammation of your colon can increase your risk of colon cancer. Reducing inflammation and promoting a healthy digestive system can make you feel better and improve your health and reduce your overall risk of serious complications from chronic inflammation.
Foods that heal colon inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids
Also called heart-healthy fats, omega-3 fatty acids have impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
Among omega-3 fats, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) seem to offer the most benefit.
Fish oil and other marine sources are among the best sources of EPA and DHA. Some foods to eat to get more EPA and DHA in your diet to help heal colon inflammation include:
- Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel
- Cod liver oil and other fish oil
- Algae oil
Plant-based omega-3 fatty acids are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Some sources of plant-based omega-3 fats come from sources like:
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Soybeans/soy products
Protein is important to rebuild damaged tissue, which can occur when you have symptoms like bloody stools or if you’ve had bowel surgery.
It’s important to focus on lean protein since high-fat protein might worsen symptoms if you have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
If you’re looking to boost the protein content in your diet for an inflamed colon, reach for foods like:
- Lean cuts of meat (lean beef, pork tenderloin, etc.)
- Skinless, white meat poultry
- White meat fish like tuna, tilapia, and cod
- Beans and lentils
- Low-fat dairy
- High-protein grains/seeds like quinoa and whole grains
- Protein shakes as needed (opt for lower-sugar options)
Inflammatory conditions can negatively impact the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system. Studies show probiotic foods can help replenish beneficial bacteria in your gut that can aid in healthy digestion and may even help reduce inflammation.
If you’ve been on antibiotics for any reason, then eating probiotic foods should also be among your top priorities since antibiotics can wipe out healthy bacteria in your gut.
Fermented foods are among the best sources of probiotics and include foods and drinks like:
Low-fiber fruits and vegetables
Normally, a high-fiber diet is recommended due to its many health benefits. However, if you’re going through a period of a flare-up with colon inflammation, you should focus on lower-fiber fruits and vegetables like:
- Canned or cooked fruits
- Skinless fruit
- Well-cooked vegetables without the skins, such as asparagus, squash, and mashed potatoes
Once your colon inflammation improves or resolves, you should include fiber-rich fruits and vegetables back into your diet as tolerated.
For example, strawberries and raspberries are excellent fiber sources and have beneficial nutrients like vitamin C and antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation.
If you’re experiencing blood loss from colon inflammation or if you’ve had to undergo bowel surgery to help correct your digestive issues, you’ll need to eat enough iron to help your body rebuild new red blood cells.
Iron is a mineral that builds a protein called hemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen-rich blood to your body. Without enough iron, you can experience fatigue, weakness, and dizziness, among other symptoms.
If you experience persistent bloody stools from colon inflammation, your healthcare provider might also recommend taking an iron supplement to ensure you get enough.
Food sources of iron to help prevent anemia from blood loss include:
- Red meat
- Organ meats
- Beans and lentils
- Cereals and grains with iron added
- Dried fruit
Staying hydrated during a bout of colon inflammation is essential. If you experience diarrhea as a side effect of IBD, you can quickly become dehydrated.
Choose clear liquids such as water, broth, diluted fruit juices, and low-sugar sports drinks to meet your hydration needs and prevent dehydration.
Foods to avoid with colon inflammation
If you have chronic colon inflammation, you’ll likely learn which foods are your triggers. Trigger foods worsen your symptoms or cause you to go from “remission” into a flare-up.
Your trigger foods might differ from this list, which are common triggers for Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other bowel inflammation.
Fatty foods can worsen symptoms of colon inflammation, such as diarrhea, since it takes a long time to digest.
While including some healthy fats in your diet is important (such as omega-3 fats mentioned earlier), be mindful of how often you eat high-fat foods from animal sources and processed foods, such as:
- Beef (especially non-lean cuts)
- Poultry with the skin on
- Lard and cream, including cream-based soups and sauces
- Ice cream
- Coconut (including coconut oil)
- Palm oil and palm kernel oil
- Some baked and fried foods
- Processed foods with added fats sources mentioned above
Refined sugar added to processed foods and drinks is the leading contributor to added sugar in the average Western diet.
Eating a lot of added sugar can contribute to chronic inflammation and may delay the healing of colon inflammation.
In addition, eating a lot of sugar if you have blood sugar problems like diabetes can delay healing, which increases your risk of complications and infections.
To help heal colon inflammation, try to reduce your intake of foods like:
- Sugary drinks (soda, sweetened tea, flavored coffee drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, etc.)
- Grain-based desserts like pie, donuts, pastries, etc.
- Sweetened dairy products (flavored yogurt, ice cream, etc.)
- Sugar-sweetened cereals
High-fiber foods (insoluble)
As mentioned earlier, fiber is usually considered one of the most important nutrients for your gut health.
However, if you have an active flare-up of colon inflammation, you should ease up on your fiber intake until your colon heals.
Eating a lot of fiber-rich foods (especially insoluble fiber, the kind that doesn’t absorb water) can irritate your already inflamed colon and worsen symptoms like bloody stools.
To help reduce potential irritation and reduce colon inflammation, you may want to reduce your intake of foods rich in insoluble fiber like:
- Apples with the skin on
- Beans, lentils, and legumes
- Dried apricots, prunes, raisins, dates, and figs
- Green peas
- Oat bran
- Pears with the skin
- Potatoes with the skins on
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat bran and wheat germ
- Whole grains
How long does colon inflammation take to heal?
If you have inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, they are lifelong conditions with no cure.
However, symptoms can be managed to reduce flare-ups and improve your quality of life.
That means that you’ll likely have periods of active colon inflammation followed by periods of “remission” when inflammation is lower, and your symptoms improve.
Medications might be recommended if you have chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. Some different classes of medications used to treat colitis include 5-aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, biologics, immunosuppressants, antidiarrheals, and over-the-counter pain relievers.
If your case of colon inflammation is short-term such as from an infection from a virus or a parasite, inflammation will likely resolve much sooner, typically within weeks.
Colon inflammation, also called colitis, is most often caused by inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It can also be a short-term occurrence, such as from an infection.
To help heal colon inflammation, focus on foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lean protein, probiotic foods, lower-fiber fruits and vegetables, and clear liquids. Eating iron-rich foods is also important if you’ve experienced blood loss due to bowel inflammation.
If you have active colon inflammation, you may want to avoid fatty foods (especially the kind in animal products and processed foods), refined sugar, and foods that are very high in fiber (especially insoluble fiber).