What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohns disease is an inflammatory bowel disease causing inflammation, deep sores or ulcers in parts of the digestive tract. As a result it can lead to following symptoms.
Symptoms Associated with Crohn Disease
- Fever or night sweats
- Bowel obstruction
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in the stool
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Fistula or abscesses
- Nutrient and mineral deficiencies due to malabsorption
- Ulcers in the mouth or gut
- Abdominal distention
Contributing Causes of Crohn’s Disease
It’s been estimated that almost 75 000 Australians have Crohn’s Disease, with this number to increase to 100 000 by the year 2022. (5 million people worldwide). What exactly causes so many people to suffer from this debilitating disease? Research indicates that the inflammation seen in the gut of Crohn’s disease patients is linked to several factors;
- Immunological factors – uncontrolled inflammatory responses from the immune system attacking harmless bacteria, food or viruses in the gut causing inflammation leading to bowel injury
- Smoking – increases the risk of having Crohn’s disease by 3-4 times
- Genetics – 30% of people with Crohn’s disease have a mutation in the NOD2/ CARD15 gene
- Poor dietary choices – consuming processed and refined foods which cause inflammation
- Gluten – The proteins in wheat are gut irritants; imagine the protein as a ‘splinter’ that’s digging into the lining of your gut, which causes an inflammatory response which leads to Crohn’s symptoms worsening
- Perinatal Illness – affecting either the mother or baby is associated with a four-fold increased risk of developing Crohn’s Disease
- Infectious factors – research has found that the presence of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis and the bacteria Serratia marcescens, E.Coli and Candida tropicalis interact and create inflammatory biofilm that as a result produces symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
- Gut Dysbiosis – lack of beneficial bacteria called Bifidobacterium and Bacteriodes as well as low levels of short chain fatty acids are also risk factors
Watch the following video for a wonderful visual explanation of Crohn’s Disease
What Role Does Diet Play in Crohn’s Disease?
If you look to mainstream medicine as a solution, you will probably be prescribed one of the following solutions below. however these solutions, only act as a ‘bandaid’ solution, looking at the symptoms instead of the root cause of the disease.
How is Crohn’s Disease Treated Conventionally?
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Immunosuppressive agents
- Antidiarrheal drugs and fluid replacements
- Stem cell therapy
- Nutritional supplementation
- Bowel resection surgery (this is not a cure)
- Colectomy (removal of all, or part of the colon)
Many gastroenterologists won’t be very flexible in planning an appropriate diet for people with Crohn’s Disease, however as a nutritionist, I truly believe that the food and drink we consume has a profound affect on our health and well-being, We can use food as medicine to start to get to the root cause of our health issues and begin the healing process. When you have Crohn’s disease, discovering which foods and drinks affect and/ or aggregate your symptoms can be like a minefield. This often leaves you feeling stressed, confused and frustrated. I’ve come up with some tips to help you naturally relieve some of your Crohn’s symptoms.
Natural Crohn’s Disease Treatment Suggestions
If stress is not managed, it weakens the immune system over time which doesn’t allow the body to fight off bad bacteria and viruses which leads to systemic inflammation and leaky gut. When we are stressed we turn down (or off) our body’s healing processes. To reduce stress do something you love, get more fun into your day. You could meditate, sing, dance, hang out with uplifting and positive people, take an art class, go swimming with a friend, go for a long walk in nature, read a book with a cup of tea or have a relaxing Epsom salt bath. You can read more tips on how to manage your stress levels here.
2. Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Avoid and eliminate your inflammation by cutting out all inflammatory foods whether that be processed carbohydrates, refined sugars and trans-saturated fats, as well as eliminating any food you may be unknowingly sensitive to, The main foods tend to be gluten, conventional dairy and chemical additives. Instead, start to introduce more ANTI-inflammatory foods into your diet.
3. Implement Bone Broth & Gelatin into Your Diet
Both bone broth and gelatin contain proline and glycine, which are amino acids that help heal a damaged gut lining as well as offer anti-inflammatory properties. Bone broth is a great source of bioavailable nutrients in an easy to digest form which helps to improve mineral deficiencies and nutrient absorption. Gelatin and bone broth are also a rich source of collagen which helps to support skin, hair, nail, joint and gut health. Bone broth can be used as the base in curries, spaghetti sauce, soups, and stews. You can cook your vegetables in the broth or simply drink it plain with lemon, turmeric and seaweed salt. Gelatin can be used to make cheesecakes, panna cotta, custard, jelly, gummies or added to hot drinks like hot chocolate. You can read more about the health benefits of gelatin here.
4. Implement Coconut Oil & Healthy Fats into Your Diet
Coconut oil helps to absorb other minerals, supports immunity, is rich in antioxidants as well as containing anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Other fats like olives, egg yolks, salmon, avocado, ghee, butter, homemade mayonnaise and animal fats are easy on the gut and promote it to heal. You can read more about the many benefits of fats here.
5. Implement Homemade Probiotic Rich Foods into Your Diet
Fermented foods are rich in pre-biotics, probiotics and enzymes which help to support the healthy microbes in the digestive tract, crowding out the bad bacteria and yeast strains. Fermented foods are essential in helping to repair a leaky gut, replenishing good bacteria in your gut, improve digestive health and boost your immune system. Add fermented foods such as coconut yoghurt, coconut water kefir, sauerkraut, kim-chi and other fermented vegetables to your daily diet.
- Heal the contributing emotional factors
- Kill off the overgrown bad bacteria, parasites and fungus in the gut (disease-causing organisms)
- Re-populate the gastrointestinal tract with beneficial bacteria
- Heal intestinal inflammation and ulceration
- Resolve nutritional deficiencies
- Detox your living environment
- Get emotional support
- Get the appropriate tests (ie; a comprehensive stool test) with your chosen health care practitioner
Although there is not one definitive, agreed-upon cause of Crohn’s disease, as each individual case is different, a poor diet and high amounts of un-managed stress are common among people with these types of digestive disorders. Adopting some of the suggestions above are some of the best natural ways to manage your symptoms or send Crohn’s into remission (hopefully for good).
Nutritionist & GAPS Practitioner
- Murtagh J. Crohn’s disease: Patient information. Aus Doctor. 2005; June.
- Leighton JA, Shen B, Baron TH, et al. ASGE guideline: Endoscopy in the diagnosis and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Gastrointest Endosc. 2006;63(4):558-65.
- Surgery for Crohn’s disease [online]. New York, NY: Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America; January 2009 [cited 15 June 2011].