Crohn's and Colitis - A Natural Approach

The Gastrointestinal System

Discussion

Crohn’s disease and colitis are very complex problems, and the full story of their causes is not known. There is a basic difference between Crohn’s disease and colitis, in that Crohn’s disease usually involves full-thickness inflammation of the intestinal wall, whereas colitis affects mostly the surface. Crohn’s disease affects mostly the small intestine, but can occur in the colon.

It is important to distinguish between inflammatory bowel disease and another disorder with very similar symptoms, known as coeliac disease. This is a disorder caused by a specific allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat and rye, and the only known way of dealing with it is to completely avoid eating gluten in any form.

Crohn’s disease and colitis, along with coeliac disease, are potentially very serious problems. They can lead, if untreated, to severe malnutrition, life-threatening internal bleeding and peritonitis. Accordingly, Crohn’s disease and colitis should be attended to by a professional. This does not mean, however, that you can’t help yourself.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease are unexplained weight loss, abdominal gas and bloating, anorexia, extreme fatigue, mild fever, intermittent diarrhoea, and abdominal tenderness. Many of these symptoms are associated with poor nutrient absorption. Symptoms of colitis include abdominal cramps, mild abdominal tenderness, fatigue and diarrhoea. Both problems, especially if severe, can lead to anaemia and sometimes obvious bleeding. These two problems are partially caused by the ulceration of the intestinal wall that is often present in Crohn’s disease and colitis.

Causes of Crohn’s disease and colitis are not known for sure, but the likely culprits are infectious agents of various sorts, dysfunction of the immune system, dietary factors, and most recently the MMR vaccine has been implicated in Crohn’s disease and colitis. This last possible cause is probably the most controversial.

For a little more detail about these various causes of Crohn’s disease and colitis:

Causes of Crohn's disease and colitis

Infections

Various types of infectious agent can lead to symptoms of irritable bowel disease. They include viruses, fungi such as Candida albicans,, various parasites such as protozoa such as Giardia and worms, and bacteria. The bacterium Bacteroides vulgaris is particularly implicated in Crohn’s disease.

Immune dysfunction

It is likely that immune system disturbances are involved in Crohn’s disease and colitis, in a similar way to its involvement in rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation for no normal reason is usually indicative of the immune system being disturbed. It ought to be noted that inflammation is a normal part of the immune system working properly; for example, when the body is dealing with a cut in the skin and in the process fighting off the bacteria that get in through the cut, the area normally becomes inflamed. The problem arises when the inflammation arises without any real cause for it.

Dietary factors

There is a great deal of evidence that dietary factors are a major contributory factor to Crohn’s disease and colitis. One interesting fact is that Crohn’s disease and colitis are virtually nonexistent in people consuming “primitive” diets and much more common in people consuming a typical Western diet high in animal protein, refined carbohydrates and artificial additives and low in fruit and vegetables. One specific additive has been found to be particularly involved; carrageenan (E407) is a seaweed-derived gum often used as a thickener and/or setting agent in commercial jellies, ice cream, salad cream, bottled sauces and soups. Carrageenan is a particularly good culture medium for the bacterium Bacteroides vulgaris, which is a known contributor to Crohn’s disease and colitis.

One particular fruit that can actually be a problem (usually thought of as a vegetable) is tomatoes, which contain an irritant toxin called solanine. For this reason, tomatoes make many inflammatory problems worse including Crohn’s disease and colitis.

Deficiency of essential fatty acids, or imbalance between the two types, can lead to inflammation in general and Crohn’s disease and colitis in particular; typical Western diets are deficient in omega-3 and contain excessive omega-6 fatty acids. In general, omega-3 are anti-inflammatory and omega-6 tend to promote inflammation. Despite this, the body needs some of both. The easiest way to get more easily available omega-3 EFAs is to consume oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and herring. There are plant sources such as walnuts and linseed, but the body finds using these more difficult.

Nutrient deficiencies both cause and are caused by Crohn’s disease and colitis. The main nutrients involved here are vitamin A and zinc, along with the amino acid L-glutamine, but most of the vitamins and minerals are involved to some degree. An easy way to get enough of most of the micronutrients is to take a good, high-strength, comprehensive multivitamin/mineral regularly.

Treatment

Because the causes of Crohn’s disease and colitis are many and varied, natural therapy for them is also quite complicated. However, it falls into three general classes; diet, supplements and botanicals.

Diet

The dietary changes necessary to help deal with Crohn’s disease and colitis follow from the earlier discussion of dietary causes. To summarise:

· Avoid artificial additives as far as possible. This means, essentially, reducing as far as possible processed food in the diet.

· Avoid sugar and other refined carbohydrates such as white rice and white bread.

· Reduce consumption of land animal protein, particularly red meat. This is because red meat in particular contains arachidonic acid, which promotes inflammation.

· Avoid or reduce consumption of foods known to have issues with sensitivity in humans. These include cows’ dairy products, citrus fruit, tomatoes and wheat products including bread.

· Avoid or reduce caffeine-containing drinks such as cola, coffee, black tea and chocolate.

Supplements

· L-glutamine: This amino acid is needed in large amounts for the immune system and also for regeneration of the intestinal wall. For supplemental use, 10-15 grams (2-3 heaped teaspoons) of the powder per day are needed, between meals.

· Multivitamin/mineral supplement as previously discussed.

· Vitamin C 2000 mg per day in divided doses. For this purpose, non-irritant forms such as calcium ascorbate or Ester-C are used.

· Digestive enzyme supplement.

· Probiotics; typically 2-4 capsules per day.

Botanicals

· Aloe vera juice has gummy components (mannans) that have been shown to soothe inflammation and promote healing of skin and mucous membranes. Aloe vera juice low in aloin should be used; aloin is a component of part of the aloe vera leaf (not normally found in a well-made juice) that has strong purgative and irritant effects.

· Goldenseal and Oregon grape (which have very similar active constituents) are soothing to the intestinal wall and also strongly anti-bacterial.

Boswellia serrata is strongly anti-inflammatory; unlike many anti-inflammatory drugs which actually inflame the gastrointestinal tract, it can be used to help soothe inflamed intestines.

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