You’ve probably heard of Crohn’s disease. Actually, it’s likely you know someone who either has it or its irritable bowel disease (IBD) ‘cousin’ ulcerative colitis. Both of these conditions are on the rise. In 2015, an estimated 1.3% of the U.S. population suffered from either Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. That’s a concerning increase from 1999, when 0.9% of the population had one of these IBDs.
What is Crohn’s?
This disease is all about inflammation, as pain in our body always is. But this time, the inflammation manifests in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your healthy cells in your GI tract attack themselves, which is what causes the inflammation. This can happen anywhere from the mouth to the anus.
Crohn’s is considered to be a chronic condition, which means doctors say there is no cure and that once diagnosed, you will suffer from its symptoms for the rest of your life. Most often, it develops in the late teens or 20s, and it often gets worse with age.
The Spectrum of Crohn’s Symptoms
If you struggle with Crohn’s, you probably have ups and downs. You likely will have to deal with flare-ups, where your symptoms are more difficult and interrupt regular life. But you might also experience times where it feels like you are in remission, and your symptoms seem to be gone. Typically, Crohn’s is considered to be a progressive disease. You might begin with mild symptoms and then see them get worse over time.
With mild or moderate Crohn’s, diarrhea and abdominal pain are common. In some mild cases, you may not even require treatment. Cases that are moderate to severe usually produce diarrhea and abdominal pain as well as additional symptoms and complications. Typically these include fever and anemia.
If you suffer from severe Crohn’s, your life will be disrupted by this disease. Your pain and discomfort might be fairly constant. You’ll probably have to stick close to a bathroom. At this level, your body is battling pretty constant inflammation, which can cause some internal permanent damage.
Early Signs of Crohn’s Disease
Early signs will include things like frequent cramping, ongoing stomach pain, diarrhea, bloody stools, and possibly unintentional weight loss. Fatigue is a common symptom of Crohn’s. In fact, more than 80 percent of people with IBD, including Crohn’s disease, report having debilitating fatigue. That constantly irritated GI tract may also make you feel nauseated.
Eventually, symptoms will start to affect things outside of your GI tract. Watch for eye pain, fever, joint pain and inflammation, skin problems, like rashes and bumps, and mouth sores. Early diagnosis is helpful to avoid long-term damage to your intestines.
If you are worried about any of these symptoms, please ask your doctor to be tested. There are lab tests that can confirm if you have an IBD. You can also have a CT scan of the GI tract or endoscopy of your intestines.
How to Treat Crohn’s Disease
According to the medical world, there is no known exact cause of Crohn’s, and doctors may disagree on the best form of treatment. However, as a Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor (CFNC), I see a big connection between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and Crohn’s/ulcerative colitis.
Throughout my coursework and study, and now as I work with clients and see the changes in their lives, I am more convinced than ever that the food, beverages, and medications we put into our gut have a direct impact on the health of our gut microbiome.
As with any form of inflammation, I always recommend starting with an elimination protocol to determine which foods are causing problems for your gut microbiome. From there we can identify other lifestyle changes that are necessary. I find great joy in helping my clients through the four levels of the Eating to Live Meal Plan as I see drastic improvements in their health and quality of life.
Supplements for Crohn’s Disease
Proper supplementation is also important when you’re battling a disease like Crohn’s disease. Because an IBD affects your nutritional intake, your risk for malnutrition will increase as the severity of the disease increases. Plus, proper supplementation will help your gut microbiome to become healthier.
Supplements that I always recommend for clients struggling with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis include:
- A really good multivitamin
- At least 5000 IU of vitamin D3
- Vitamin C
- Iron (if you are susceptible to anemia)
Work with your doctor to determine which supplements are right for you.
It’s very important that you avoid any NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), like ibuprofen, Advil, and Motrin. These drugs add to inflammation and will eventually exacerbate the pain you’re already experiencing and can make Crohn’s worse.
Your Future with Crohn’s
Currently, there is no official cure for Crohn’s. But, experts agree that early diagnosis is crucial to help manage the condition, and that proper lifestyle changes can also help.
Because of our personal experience with Crohn’s, David and I have a different perspective on this disease. David was diagnosed with both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis in the 80s. This was at the beginning of his long struggle with health issues and a variety of other diagnoses.
By implementing an elimination protocol, avoiding all NSAIDs and over-the-counter antacids (and eventually all prescription medications), and other important lifestyle changes, David has been able to control and actually reverse his health conditions – including Crohn’s. Recent colonoscopies confirm that he no longer has Crohn’s or UC.
If you are struggling with an IBD like Crohn’s, I’d love to work with you. You deserve the best quality of health – and quality of life – that is possible for you. Here at Eating to Live we love to help make that happen.
Note: You can read more about David’s journey, and how he reversed these and many other difficult health conditions in our book, Eating to Live: Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code, available now.