These days it seems like almost everyone has a problem with their stomach of some sort or another. Part of it is the food we eat, part of it is the nutrients we lack, and a lot of it has to do with stress.
But the first part is figuring out what exactly is going on with your digestion.
Is It IBS, IBD, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, or Something Else Entirely?
Stomach problems are often very difficult to diagnosis correctly because they tend to all have similar symptoms. Abdomen pain and cramps, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, and diarrhea are all common in people with all sorts of different conditions.
Here are some general ideas to help you figure out what you have going on, though I would highly recommend also talking to your doctor.
Crohn’s is actually a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and affects the walls of the small and large intestine, though it can also affect your mouth, stomach, rectum, and anus. It usually appears in patches and lesions and can affect the entire thickness of the bowel walls.
The symptoms vary a lot from person to person but often include: constipation or diarrhea (usually non-bloody), low-grade fevers, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, gas, bloating, fatigue, black stools, and weight loss.
A lot of factors can contribute to the development of Crohn’s disease from eating too many saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, and sugar to eating too few fruits and vegetables. Smoking, antibiotics, infections, stress and nutritional deficiencies can also all play a role.
Ulcerative colitis is similar, but the damage is usually just in the large intestine and rectum, and affects only the innermost layer of the walls.
How to Help Control and Improve Your Symptoms
Because Crohn’s is caused by inflammation, the main idea to relieve symptoms is to somehow control that inflammation.
The First Thing You Can Do…
The first thing you need to do is to try to identify and remove any triggers. While people react differently to different foods, you should start with the most common food allergies.
Eliminating wheat and all other grains containing gluten is a good place to start because they have been shown to increase inflammation and mess up your gut flora.
Dairy contains antibiotics and hormones that can alter your gut flora and make them start inflaming your whole gastrointestinal tract.
Studies have shown that if you eat a lot of refined sugar, you are more likely to get IBD.
Carrageenan is often used as a stabilizing agent in milk products. Animal studies have shown that eating too much of it can lead to ulcerative colitis. Studies in humans have yet to prove the same thing, but it could definitely be making the inflammation worse.
The Second Thing You Can Do…
The second thing you can do is start eating more fruits, vegetables, and dietary fiber. Brassica vegetables, onions, and garlic can all help to increase antioxidant levels and decrease inflammation.
Drinking plenty of water is also key to keeping your bowels healthy. Especially if you already drink coffee, you should make sure to drink at least 1-2 liters of water a day.
Certain herbs are great for helping treat IBD because of their anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric has been used in cooking around the world for centuries. It contains curcumin, which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. In particular it helps to fight cytokines, which cause inflammation, and modulates pathways which decrease inflammation.
Studies have shown that giving curcumin to patients with Crohn’s and colitis can significantly improve their symptoms.
Quercetin is actually a bioflavonoid, which sounds complicated, but all you need to know is that it’s an antioxidant that can decrease inflammation by lowering the amount of histamine that your body releases. Plus, it can help slow down leukotrienes, which can make inflammation worse.
Quercetin can be taken as a supplement or you can simply eat more fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits.
Studies have shown that the yeast, Sacharomyces boulardii, is a very safe and effective treatment for patients with Crohn’s disease, helping decrease diarrhea, intestinal inflammation, and the risk of relapse.
Lactobacillus, another probiotic bacteria, has also been shown to be beneficial in Crohn’s patients, especially in children.
Stress is a major trigger for IBD attacks so you should pay special attention to your daily stress levels.
Yoga, meditation, setting boundaries, and making time for yourself are all great ideas for relieving stress. One of the best things I tell my patients is find whatever it is that you enjoy, that helps your body and your mind calm down, and invest time daily into that activity, even if only for a few minutes a day.
Crohn’s (and Colitis) tends to make your body worse at absorbing certain nutrients because of the damage it does to your intestines. People suffering from IBD can be deficient in any of the following nutrients:
– Vitamin B12
– Vitamin A, C, E, D, or K
If you suffer from IBD, speak to your health care provider to see which supplements may be best for you to increase your vitamin and mineral intake.
Please note: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and Colitis) are very serious conditions. Please talk to your health care provider before taking any medications and supplements to see which may be the safest and best suited for you.
Pizzorno J, Murray, M. Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th Ed. Churchill Livingstone. 2012. Chapter 181:1535-1551
Shaw SY, Blanchard JF, Bernstein CN. Association between the use of antibiotics and new diagnoses of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011. Vol 106(12):2133-42.
Guslandi M, Mezzi G, Sorghi M. Saccharomyces boulardii in maintenance treatment of Crohn’s disease. Dig Dis Sci. 2000;45:1462-1464.
Guandalini S. Use of Lactobacillus-GG in paediatric Crohn’s disease. Dig Liver Dis. 2002;34(2):S63-S
Ferri FF. Crohn’s Disease. Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2015, 2nd Edition. Pp 336-337.
Cronh’s & Colitis Foundation of America. The facts about Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Crohn’s & Colitis Canada. Facts and Statistics.
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