Sunny Anderson Talks about Living With Ulcerative Colitis

Celebrity chef Sunny Anderson is well known for her Food Network shows Cooking for Real and The Kitchen. She is also the author of the 2013  New York Times best-selling debut cookbook Sunny’s Kitchen: Easy Food for Real Life

But what is not well known about her is that she has been living with the inflammatory bowel condition, ulcerative colitis for the past 20 years.

Sunny recently spoke to Fox News about her diagnosis and about a project she is working on to help those with the disease.

Anderson received her diagnosis of ulcerative colitis at the age of 19, when she experienced abdominal pain and blood in her stool. She told her father, who happens to be a physician, and he encouraged her to be seen by a gastroenterologist (a doctor that specializes in the GI Tract). According to Sunny:

When I first received my UC diagnosis at age 19, I worried that having UC meant giving up who I am. Living with IBD, food is sometimes the last thing you want to think about, especially when experiencing a flare and symptoms are at their worst. While food didn’t cause my IBD (nor will food cure it), I’ve learned to recognize which foods aggravate my symptoms. Working closely with my doctor, we identified that many raw fruits and vegetables such as kale or lettuce trigger my UC flares. Since then, I’ve been able to tweak my eating habits and cooking style to manage my symptoms – which wasn’t all difficult since I’m a true meat and potatoes gal!

Now Sunny is working with Janssen Biotech, Inc. and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of American (CCFA) to launch a website called Get Your Full Course. The website is designed to “educate and inspire” those living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which affects an estimated 1.4 million Americans. Those with IBD can have  either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease. The website explains the role of diet in IBD, and of course, there are many recipes designed by Sunny for those with the disease.

What is ulcerative colitis?

ulcerative-colitisUlcerative colitis is a chronic, or long lasting, disease that causes inflammation—irritation or swelling—and sores called ulcers on the inner lining of the large intestine.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s disease and microscopic colitis are the other common IBDs.

Ulcerative colitis most often begins gradually and can become worse over time. Symptoms can be mild to severe. Most people have periods of remission—times when symptoms disappear—that can last for weeks or years. The goal of care is to keep people in remission long term.

What is the large intestine?

The large intestine is part of the GI tract, a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus—an opening through which stool leaves the body. The last part of the GI tract, called the lower GI tract, consists of the large intestine—which includes the appendix, cecum, colon, and rectum—and anus. The intestines are sometimes called the bowels.

The large intestine is about 5 feet long in adults and absorbs water and any remaining nutrients from partially digested food passed from the small intestine. The large intestine changes waste from liquid to a solid matter called stool. Stool passes from the colon to the rectum. The rectum is located between the lower, or sigmoid, colon and the anus. The rectum stores stool prior to a bowel movement, when stool moves from the rectum to the anus and out of a person’s body.

What causes ulcerative colitis (UC)?

The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. Researchers believe the following factors may play a role in causing ulcerative colitis:

  • Overactive intestinal immune system. Scientists believe one cause of ulcerative colitis may be an abnormal immune reaction in the intestine. Normally, the immune system protects the body from infection by identifying and destroying bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful foreign substances. Researchers believe bacteria or viruses can mistakenly trigger the immune system to attack the inner lining of the large intestine. This immune system response causes the inflammation, leading to symptoms.
  • Genes. Ulcerative colitis sometimes runs in families. Research studies have shown that certain abnormal genes may appear in people with ulcerative colitis. However, researchers have not been able to show a clear link between the abnormal genes and ulcerative colitis.
  • Environment. Some studies suggest that certain things in the environment may increase the chance of a person getting ulcerative colitis, although the overall chance is low. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,1 antibiotics,1 and oral contraceptives2 may slightly increase the chance of developing ulcerative colitis. A high-fat diet may also slightly increase the chance of getting ulcerative colitis.3

Some people believe eating certain foods, stress, or emotional distress can cause ulcerative colitis. Emotional distress does not seem to cause ulcerative colitis. A few studies suggest that stress may increase a person’s chance of having a flare-up of ulcerative colitis. Also, some people may find that certain foods can trigger or worsen symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis?

ulcerative colitisThe most common signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis are diarrhea with blood or pus and abdominal discomfort. Other signs and symptoms include

  • an urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • feeling tired
  • nausea or loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • anemia—a condition in which the body has fewer red blood cells than normal

Less common symptoms include

  • joint pain or soreness
  • eye irritation
  • certain rashes

The symptoms a person experiences can vary depending on the severity of the inflammation and where it occurs in the intestine. When symptoms first appear, most people with ulcerative colitis have mild to moderate symptoms
about 10 percent of people can have severe symptoms, such as frequent, bloody bowel movements; fevers; and severe abdominal cramping

How is ulcerative colitis treated?

A health care provider treats ulcerative colitis with medication and/or surgery. Which treatment a person needs depends on the severity of the disease and the symptoms. Each person experiences ulcerative colitis differently, so health care providers adjust treatments to improve the person’s symptoms and induce, or bring about, remission.


While no medication cures ulcerative colitis, many can reduce symptoms. The goals of medication therapy are inducing and maintaining remission and improving the person’s quality of life

Many people with ulcerative colitis require medication therapy indefinitely, unless they have their colon and rectum surgically removed.

Some of the medication used to treat a UC symptoms include:

  • Aminosalicylates
  • Corticosteroids
  • Immunomodulators
  • Biologics, also called anti-TNF therapies
  • Other medications


Some people will need surgery to treat their ulcerative colitis when they have

  • colon cancer
  • dysplasia, or precancerous cells in the colon
  • complications that are life threatening, such as megacolon or bleeding
  • no improvement in symptoms or condition despite treatment
  • continued dependency on steroids
  • side effects from medications that threaten their health

Removal of the entire colon, including the rectum, “cures” ulcerative colitis. A surgeon performs the procedure at a hospital. A surgeon can perform two different types of surgery to remove a patient’s colon and treat ulcerative colitis:

  • proctocolectomy and ileostomy
  • proctocolectomy and ileoanal reservoir

Full recovery from both operations may take 4 to 6 weeks.

What is the relationship between Ulcerative Colitis and Colon Cancer?

People with ulcerative colitis may be more likely to develop colon cancer when

  • ulcerative colitis affects the entire colon
  • a person has ulcerative colitis for at least 8 years
  • inflammation is ongoing
  • people also have primary sclerosing cholangitis, a condition that affects the liver
  • a person is male

People who receive ongoing treatment and remain in remission may reduce their chances of developing colon cancer.

People with ulcerative colitis should talk with their health care provider about how often they should get screened for colon cancer. Screening can include colonoscopy with biopsies or a special dye spray called chromoendoscopy.

Health care providers may recommend colonoscopy every 1 to 3 years for people with ulcerative colitis who have the disease in one-third or more or of their colon and/or had ulcerative colitis for 8 years.

Such screening does not reduce a person’s chances of developing colon cancer. Instead, screening can help diagnose cancer early and improve chances for recovery.

Surgery to remove the entire colon eliminates the risk of colon cancer.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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