Colitis is a serious bowel problem which can cause diarrhoea, stomach pains or cramps, bleeding and the passage of slime from the rectum.

People often lose a lot of weight due to vitamin, protein and other nutritional deficiencies.

An acute flare-up with bleeding can cause stomach distension, anaemia, a toxic state or perforation of the bowel. The bleeding may need hospital admission and intensive treatment and even an operation to remove the diseased and inflamed bowel.

Last week I saw a 49-year-old woman who has suffered from ulcerative colitis since the age of 16. She remained well for 15 years after treatment with steroids and mesalazine, an anti-colitis drug. However, she suffered the usual side-effects of steroids - hair growth on the face, weight gain, red-flushed skin and muscle weakness. She also became resistant to the effect of mesalazine.

Asmita and I treated her with Kutaj tablets made from the extract of leaves and bark of holerrhena antidysentrica and aconite in small doses. Her bleeding stopped in two days.

The other healing herbs for colitis are the extract of the pulp of aegle marmelos (bilwa) and aloe vera gel, which has been shown to heal inflamed bowels and help with cramp, diarrhoea and bleeding in extensive clinical trials in India.

Calcium and magnesium supplements made from coral (called praval pishti) are also very helpful in controlling diarrhoea and bleeding.

A light diet consisting of boiled rice and potatoes is more digestible and soothing to the gut. Steamed vegetables such as spinach and potatoes provide iron and mucilage and a live yogurt drink with a touch of rock salt provides protein and salt replacement.

Bananas, with their calcium, potassium and mucilage, are very beneficial, along with ispagulla fibre. Rest is also essential for colitis sufferers.

Gentle yoga and deep, relaxing breathing can help relieve stomach cramp and calm the irritated bowel, reducing the frequency of bowel motions by lessening stress.

Other causes of diarrhoea and bleeding from the bowel need to be borne in mind.

Similar symptoms of colitis can also be caused by an infection of the gut such as amoebic dysentry, gastro-enteritis or food poisoning so a stool test is essential.

One 53-year-old patient who had lived in Brazil, Mexico and Thailand complained of diarrhoea and bleeding. She thought it was due to amoebic dysentery but further analysis revealed a cancer of the lower bowel. Generally, these symptoms in younger people are more likely to be colitis while older people need tests to rule out cancer.

Steroids, along with mesalazine, are the main treatment for colitis but the side effects can be unpleasant. Carefully selected Ayurvedic treatment may provide a gentler, holistic way of healing while protecting the body from any side effects.