Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two of the most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They are on the rise worldwide. If you, or someone you love, suffer from these, you know the disruption that these disorders cause. They wreak havoc on your life, affect your relationships, your employment and more.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. The good news is that there is much exciting research going on. We have made a lot of progress in recent years by discovering natural ways to ease and support people with IBD. Read on to discover some natural treatment options for IBD that will help you take your life back.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
As the name suggests inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s and Colitis, develop when the lining of your intestines becomes inflamed. The consequences of that inflammation are debilitating. They include difficulty digesting your food, nutrient malabsorption, and abnormal waste elimination. Sufferers of IBD have problems with their bowel movements including urgency (feeling like you need to find a bathroom immediately), bowel incontinence, mucousy stools, and bloody diarrhea.
What Causes Inflammation of the Bowel?
The specific cause of inflammation in IBD is still under investigation. The following are potential triggers for gut inflammation:
- Foods. You may be able to identify which foods irritate your gut. If not, our naturopaths can help guide you to a less inflammatory diet.
- The microbiome or the balance of the microbial growth in your intestines. The gut microbiology of each of the forms of IBD is different. However, both are characterized by a reduced bacterial diversity and reduced richness of beneficial bacteria.
- Environment. Environmental factors like experiencing bacterial gastroenteritis in the past, urban living surroundings, air pollution, the use of antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and oral contraceptives are likely to be the most important risk factors for both diseases.
Crohn’s Disease Vs. Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two different inflammatory bowel diseases. They share some common symptoms, but there are also some differences.
How are Crohn’s and Colitis the Same?
The common symptoms of Crohn’s and colitis include:
- Diarrhea (sometimes alternating with constipation)
- Bloody stools
- Increased gas
- Joint pain
- Belly pain and discomfort
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss
- Reduced appetite
How are Crohn’s And Colitis Different?
Although they share many symptoms, it’s important to note that they’re not exactly the same. The main differences between Crohn’s and Colitis are:
- Colitis means inflammation of the colon or large intestine. In ulcerative colitis, only the large intestine is affected. Crohn’s disease occurs in both the small and large intestines. In fact, it can affect everything from your mouth through to your rectum.
- Crohn’s disease is more patchy. That is, healthy tissue is intermingled with inflamed tissue. In contrast, ulcerative colitis affects an entire area.
- The inflammation of colitis affects only the inner lining of the intestines. Whereas in Crohn’s disease, it can affect deeper layers.
In real-life terms, bloody diarrhea and rectal bleeding are more common with colitis. The pain of Crohn’s is often a sharper, more intense pain than the cramping that typically accompanies colitis. Bear in mind that these are just generalized differences.
How are Crohn’s and Colitis Diagnosed?
A medical specialist, like a gastroenterologist, is the best person to diagnose any form of inflammatory bowel disease. He/she does so by performing a colonoscopy.
What Causes Crohn’s and Colitis?
Why do some people get Crohn’s and Colitis?
Doctors don’t have precise reasons yet. Most cases are considered idiopathic, which means that they are of unknown origin. Westernization of diets and environments affects your gut bacteria (microbiome) and increases the risk of IBD in genetically susceptible individuals.
Crohn’s and colitis affect people of all ages and sizes, but they occur more often in females. These diseases occur over a broad age spectrum, from early childhood to late adulthood.
The onset of Crohn’s disease in children is more severe and more extensive. Girls appear to have an overall more severe course of the disease. However, boys are at increased risk for developing growth failure as a result of Crohn’s.
IBD is generally considered to be autoimmune in nature. In autoimmunity, a number of factors come into play, including genetics and environmental triggers.
Are Crohn’s and Colitis Hereditary?
Genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors appear to play a role in inflammatory bowel diseases. Multiple genes that are related to an individual’s susceptibility to Crohn’s and colitis have been described.
The clustering of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in families has been established for several decades. Familial susceptibility reflects shared genetic and environmental factors. Positive family history remains the strongest recognizable risk factor for the development of IBD. Crohn’s disease shows a more frequent familial pattern than ulcerative colitis. First-degree relatives of someone with IBD have a 4- to 8-fold increased risk of developing these diseases.
The Effects Of Stress & Diet
Many people do notice that their IBD tends to flare up during times of stress. Of course, the flare-up then creates even more stress. Certain foods often trigger symptoms as well. Although stress and diet don’t cause either condition, they often exacerbate the symptoms. So managing Crohn’s and Colitis often requires careful dietary monitoring and lifestyle changes.
How Do Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis Influence Life Expectancy?
Children with IBD have a 3-fold increased risk of death when followed through to adulthood. The relative risk for death has not decreased with the development of new medications for the treatment of IBD. There is very little information on all-cause and cause-specific death in patients with childhood-onset IBD. Childhood-onset of these diseases does tend to cause more severe illness.
Both conditions in children and adults have a significant negative impact on their quality of life. They also mean a greater risk for a host of other associated diseases including colon cancer, blood clots, severe nutrient deficiencies, arthritis, bowel obstruction, and dehydration.
How Are Crohn’s and Colitis Treated?
Treatment focuses on two main goals: reducing inflammation and managing symptoms. A number of medications, including steroids, work to reduce inflammation. In addition, particularly with Crohn’s, surgery is sometimes necessary to remove tissue that is too deeply damaged. Many people suffering from IBD find that they can ease their symptoms enough to return to a more normal life by making some changes to their diet and lifestyle.
Is There a Cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease(IBD)?
Given that there is a genetic component to it, IBD is a condition that patients need to continuously manage in order to remain in remission. That genetic tendency will always exist, but how much or how little it is expressed, can be influenced by environment, diet, stress, nutrition and lifestyle factors.
Natural Ways To Treat Crohn’s and Colitis Symptoms
Improving your overall health is an important first step in managing IBD symptoms. Your treatment plan should target your lifestyle holistically, from all angles. The joint goals of treating Crohn’s and Colitis include reducing inflammation and minimizing the number of flare-ups you experience. Some proven strategies include:
Your nervous system is intricately connected to your digestive system. Stress, particularly chronic stress, leads to an imbalance of bacteria in your gut, also known as dysbiosis.
To relieve the physical effects of stress, a variety of mindfulness activities such as yoga, meditation or tai chi is very helpful. Seeing a psychotherapist to formulate a stress-reduction plan with some helpful strategies works.
Working out while you’re experiencing the symptoms of IBD can be difficult. However, research has shown that exercising reduces the severity of gastrointestinal disorders. With IBD it’s especially important to listen to your body and focus on relaxing exercise such as yoga. Working out too intensely actually creates a stress response and exacerbates symptoms.
Work On An Elimination Diet
It can take a lot of trial and error to figure out which foods are triggers for you specifically. That’s why it’s a good idea to create a carefully crafted elimination diet in consultation with your Naturopath.
What Foods Trigger IBD?
Although everyone is different, some common food triggers for inflammatory bowel disease include:
- Fried foods
- Fatty foods
- Dairy products
- Artificial sweeteners
- Large meals
- Carbonated drinks
- Foods with a lot of fructose, such as apples and dried fruits
- Fermentable carbohydrates
Restoring the bacterial balance in your gut with probiotic supplements eases symptoms in Colitis, but may not help Crohn’s. However, you’ll get the best results if you work with a naturopathic doctor to ensure that you’re taking the best type of probiotic. Not all probiotics are the same, so you want to make sure you select the best one for your particular condition. There is also concern that in severe disease bacteria may translocate across the wall of the gut and end up in the bloodstream, causing a life-threatening blood infection.
Consider Herbal And Nutritional Supplements
- Turmeric (Curcumin)
- Boswellia (also known as frankincense)
- N-acetyl glucosamine
We’ll Help You Stay Abreast Of New IBD Treatment Options
Although much work still remains to be done, it’s a good idea to talk to your naturopathic doctor about recent medical research. Our naturopaths keep on top of the latest natural health information. IBD is an area where promising discoveries and potential new treatments are emerging often. For example, trials have been conducted on the effectiveness of fecal transplants, in which healthy stool is “transplanted” into an inflamed large intestine in hopes of restoring the balance of healthy bacteria. Other exciting findings involve stem cell research.
If you have been diagnosed with or are experiencing the symptoms of Crohn’s or Colitis, you should know that there is a reason for hope. Many natural supportive treatments prove quite effective, and new developments are on the horizon. Come into the clinic and we can work together to improve your digestive health! Call to book at 416-481-0222 or book online here.
Authored by Naturopath Dr. Pamela Frank