Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that can make those who live with it miserable. While a cure may not be likely, you can control your symptoms so you can live your life more comfortably.
What Is Crohn's Disease?
According to PubMed, the exact cause of Crohn's is not known but it appears to be linked to problems with the body's immune system. As with other autoimmune disorders, the immune system attacks healthy body tissue because it recognizes it as a foreign substance. This results in inflammation that manifests itself in a wide range of symptoms.
There are different types of Crohn's disease that affect different part of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms may vary depending on the type of Crohn's you have, but typical symptoms can include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent diarrhea
- Joint pain
- Weight loss
- Rectal bleeding
Just because you have these symptoms does not mean that you have Crohn's disease. It's important to visit your healthcare provider; only a doctor can diagnose Crohn's disease or other conditions.
The Mayo Clinic suggests making dietary changes to help control symptoms of Crohn's. You may find some relief by limiting your consumption of dairy products or you may find that reducing, or increasing, the amount of fiber in your diet helps you feel better.
Specific foods may trigger symptoms so try keeping a food diary to record how you feel after meals and snacks. You may find that normally healthy foods are not the best foods for you. Some foods that can cause problems include raw fruits or vegetables, cabbage, corn, popcorn, nuts and seeds, citrus foods, spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine.
Certified nutritional consultant Phyllis A. Balch, in her book Prescription for Herbal Healing, recommended the following herbs to manage Crohn's disease symptoms:
- Aloe juice to soften stools and heal the intestines
- Bromelain tablets to help with digestion of proteins
- Fennel seed tea to help relieve gas and constipation
- Marshmallow root forms a protective layer in the digestive tract
- Slippery elm soothes inflammation and can be taken as a powder mixed in hot water as often as needed
Additional herbal remedies are believed to be beneficial to Crohn's sufferers include:
- Gingko Biloba - A natural remedy containing anti-oxidant ingredients known to be beneficial in protecting the gastrointestinal tract from the harmful effects of Crohn's.
- Green Tea - Known to have anti-inflammatory properties, this product is popular because of its potential contribution to reducing the risk of cancer (a possible complication of Crohn's).
- Cat's Claw - Known to be used by those who live in the Amazon, cat's claw is used to treat intestinal disorders.
- Salai Guggal - This Ayervedic herbal remedy has been likened to sulphasalazine a potent anti-inflammatory drug which is commonly prescribed to those suffering from ulcerative colitis (U.C). Crohn's causes many similar symptoms to U.C therefore salai guggal has been introduced as a natural treatment for it.
- Goldenseal - This remedy discourages bacteria from adhering to the intestinal wall, thus protecting the gut from Crohn's disease.
Some herbs to avoid include echinacea, pau d'arco and burdock because these herbs can trigger symptoms by increasing the autoimmune response.
Because nutrients are not properly absorbed in people with Crohn's disease, vitamin supplements may help strengthen the body and reduce symptoms.
- Zinc, folic acid and vitamin B12 help repair the intestine
- Calcium and vitamin D help keep your bones strong. Crohn's sufferers are often deficient in vitamin D.
- Probiotics may reduce bouts of diarrhea
- Glutamine can improve overall intestinal health
Discuss vitamin supplements with your doctor before adding them to your diet.
Other Natural Treatments
Dr. Andrew Weil recommends a slow increase in omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation. If your increase results in diarrhea, cut back to the last dose that produced no symptoms.
Homeopathic remedies are also becoming popular. It is important to consult a homeopathic practitioner in order to select the correct remedies for you. ABC Homeopathy has a helpful remedy finder tool that can help you decide which remedies you should try.
Researchers at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine concluded that acupuncture is useful in treating Crohn's disease. Similar results were found in another study in which participants were given 10 sessions over a four-week period and then followed up on over the next 12 weeks.
Stress is known to trigger symptoms of Crohn's. Reducing stress stress through counseling, meditation and yoga may help reduce symptoms.
Don't Lose Hope
If Crohn's disease is making your life miserable, don't lose hope. Discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider to put together a treatment plan that is effective for you. You may find a combination of treatments will work well enough to control your symptoms and give you your life back