As you know, you eat food to get nutrients like protein and carbohydrates, which keep your body running. When your gastrointestinal (GI) tract processes that food, it absorbs the necessary nutrients and gets rid of any waste. The GI tract starts from your mouth and ends with your anus and includes your esophagus, stomach, and intestines.
For the 1.4 million Americans currently suffering with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis – a related form of inflammatory bowel disease – the ailments can be stressful, painful and debilitating conditions that can wreak havoc on daily life. And, the incidence of the diseases is steadily rising – according to The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, 70,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.
What Are the Effects of Crohn’s Disease?
Unlike ulcerative colitis, which is confined to the large intestine, Crohn’s Disease can attack any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the rectum. However, it most commonly strikes the small intestine, causing inflammation and ulcerations, which in severe cases can erode into the bladder and even the surface of the skin. Inflammation of eyes and joints can occur as well. Complications can include malnutrition, bowel obstructions, and colon cancer.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, cramping after meals, decreased appetite, fevers, weight loss and anemia. Conventionally speaking, there is no cure for Crohn’s Disease, but conventional medicine treats symptoms with prescription medications such as mesalazine, corticosteroids, immune system suppressors, and antibiotics – of course, these pharmaceutical treatments all feature side effects that can range from mild to life-threatening.
Thankfully, there are natural substances you can use to help alleviate symptoms, contribute to intestinal healing, and ward off relapses and flare-ups.
Vitamin D – a.k.a the “Sunshine Vitamin”
Vitamin D combats Crohn’s Disease safely and also protects against cancer, heart disease and infections. In a study conducted at McGill University in Montreal and published in 2010 in Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers confirmed that the incidence of Crohn’s Disease is higher in Northern latitudes, and theorized that vitamin D from natural sunlight provides protective effects.
Researchers found that variations in special receptor genes for vitamin D are linked to a vulnerability to Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis leading them to conclude that vitamin D deficiency can contribute to the development of IBD. This was not the first study attesting to the need for Crohn’s patients to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. According to a 2010 study presented by the American College of Gastroenterology, vitamin D deficiency puts IBD patients at greater risk for osteoporosis as well.
Since researchers believe that Crohn’s disease is caused by defective immune regulation of gut bacteria, probiotics which are live bacteria similar to the beneficial bacteria that exist in the human gastrointestinal tract are an obvious choice for helping to regain healthy balance and keep harmful pathogens in check.
When researchers began to study the effects of probiotics on Crohn’s patients, they found that probiotics can help keep the disease in remission. But, some bacteria appeared to work better than others. Probiotics that contain Saccharomyces boulardi was particularly effective in helping to reduce diarrhea.
In a scientific review published in 2008 in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, the authors reported that s. boulardi, when used in conjunction with mesalazine, worked better than mesalazine alone to maintain remission. Zinc promotes intestinal healing, improves “leaky gut,” and prevents relapse. Zinc is a powerful antioxidant and plays a vital role in wound healing. This essential mineral may help to repair intestinal cells in people with Crohn’s disease.
But zinc may play a role beyond mere cell repair. Crohn’s patients are susceptible to intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” which can trigger relapse in patients in remission. In a study published in 2001 in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Crohn’s patients who had been in remission for at least three months but who had experienced episodes of increased intestinal permeability on at least two separate occasions two months prior were given zinc supplements three times a day for eight weeks. Researchers found that the zinc reduced the lactulose/mannitol ratio, a marker of the disease, in the patients. 10 out of 12 participants maintained normal intestinal permeability; 11 of the 12 avoided relapse completely – leading researchers to conclude that zinc supplementation could resolve “leaky gut” in Crohn’s patients in remission, and contribute to maintaining the remission.
Boswellia – An Ancient Ayurvedic Treatment
Boswellia serrata, also known as Indian frankincense, is treasured in Ayurveda for its anti-inflammatory properties. Modern researchers have noted that its active ingredients, boswellic acids, work by suppressing inflammatory cytokines. And – unlike steroids – they achieve this with no side effects. In a 2008 review published in European Journal of Medical Research, the authors declared boswellia as effective as both sulfasalazine and mesalazine in the treatment of Crohn’s disease.
Lifestyle and Dietary Choices Can Help Protect Against Crohn’s Disease
Although heredity and genetics play a role in whether you will develop IBD and exposure to environmental toxins may also come into play as well, there are still conscious choices you can make to reduce your chances of developing Crohn’s Disease. As with countless other chronic diseases – a sedentary lifestyle, cigarette smoking, insufficient sunlight and a diet crammed with processed foods and laden with saturated fat are the familiar villains that can set you up for IBD along with a host of other conditions.
Eating antioxidant-rich, high-fiber foods such as fresh, organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables play a huge part in good health. One must avoid processed foods, saturated fat, tobacco and sugar and must get adequate physical activity – these simple actions may very well be your first and best line of defense against inflammatory bowel disease.
While some foods undeniably exacerbate Crohn’s, there are other foods that can be beneficial for Crohn’s sufferers. In fact, some actually include important nutrients that promote healthy digestion and should definitely be included in your diet.
Here’s what you should add to your grocery list:
* Almond Milk
* Vegetable-Based Soups
* Tropical Fruits, including bananas, papaya, mango, and cantaloupe
* Pureed Beans
* Butter Lettuce
* Roasted Red Peppers (with the skin removed)
* White Rice
* Smooth Peanut Butter/Almond Butter
It’s important to point out that not everyone can tolerate the same foods; what might be safe for one may trigger symptoms in another. You might want to try different foods and keep a food journal to observe your body’s reaction to each. With that said, here’s a list of some common trigger foods to avoid:
* Dairy products, including butter, yogurt (for those who are lactose intolerant)
* Carbonated drinks
* Corn husks
* Foods high in fiber and fat
* Beans, nuts, seeds
* Raw fruits and vegetables
* Red meat and pork
* Spicy foods
* Whole grains and bran (only okay to eat if you’re not experiencing severe symptoms)
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