Crohn’s Disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC), often referred to as Crohn’s and Colitis, are the two main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). As the name suggests these are diseases of the digestive system involving inflammation which can be severe and damaging.
The Medical Perspective:
From the medical perspective, there is no known cause or cure for Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Physicians treat both diseases with drugs to address acute symptoms and then to induce and maintain remission. Sometimes surgery is performed. In the case of Colitis, surgical removal of the entire colon (large intestine) may stop all signs and symptoms of the disease so in a way this affects a ‘cure’, albeit a drastic one.
In 2004, R.R. Cima and J.H. Pemberton of the Mayo Clinic said in Gut magazine that, “surgery in UC is curative.” However, Mark Silverberg of Mount Sinai Hospital says that physicians in Toronto, facing one of the world’s highest rates of Crohn’s and Colitis, do not make this claim. They consider surgery a “treatment” rather than a “cure.”
Following surgery, patients may need to wear a pouch on the outside of the body to collect wastes from the intestines. Another option is to attach the small intestine to the anus, thereby creating an imitation colon. Dr. Silverberg points out that this surgery (IPAA or “J-pouch” surgery) still results in an average of 7 bowel movements per day. Up to 50% of patients experience inflammation of the small intestine after IPAA surgery. Documents from the IPAA Registry at the Boston Medical Center admit that not much is known about why patients have complications after J-pouch surgery.
A number of the symptoms of these two conditions are quite similar. Here’s a list of symptoms Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis have in common:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Frequent diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Lack of energy
- Flare-ups and remissions
In contrast to Crohn’s and Colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is a functional disorder; no inflammation or damage is present in the bowel. Many of the symptoms of IBS are the same as IBD. When sufferers go to the doctor for help and the tests show no sign of inflammation or damage, patients may be given the diagnosis of IBS once other possibilities have been ruled out.
There are some typical differences between Crohn’s and Colitis that doctors look for when making a diagnosis. Many of these differences are not readily apparent to the sufferer and require medical testing to detect and assess.
Symptoms more typical of Crohn’s Disease:
- Inflammation can be anywhere from mouth to anus but is often at the end of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine
- Patches of inflammation occur between healthy section of tissue
- Pain on lower right side of abdomen
- Not much blood (if any) in stools
- Almost constant ‘sharp’ pain during flare-ups
- Granulomas may be present upon testing. Granulomas are lesions that form when inflamed cells lump together. Granulomas do NOT occur with Colitis, so their presence confirms Crohn’s disease.
- Complications such as strictures, fissures and fistulas are common
Symptoms more typical of Ulcerative Colitis:
- “False Urges” to have a bowel movement, little or no stool is excreted. This is the hallmark symptom of Colitis
- Symptoms begin at rectum and move up the colon
- Only the colon (large intestine) is affected
- Continuous area of inflammation in the colon, (no patches)
- Pain on lower left side of abdomen
- Severe and BLOODY diarrhea
- During flare-ups, pain is mostly associated with bowel movements
- During flare-ups, pain feels more like a ‘cramp’ than ‘sharp’
What to eat for Crohn’s and Colitis:
Food allergies, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, chemical sensitivities and emotional stress or trauma can all affect the symptoms of Crohn’s and Colitis. Food allergies and intolerances can lead to inflammation in the body when the offending substance is eaten. Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense for IBD sufferers to find out what foods they don’t tolerate and to remove them from the diet.
Our traditional Western diet with its focus on fast foods and meat is inherently a pro-inflammatory diet. Meat and dairy produced by traditional farming methods are too high in Omega 6 fatty acids which promote inflammation in the body. This happens because the animals are fed a diet consisting largely of corn and soy which are rich in this type of fat.
A better choice is to buy meat, dairy and eggs produced from organically raised and grass-fed animals. The diets of grass fed animals are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory fats.
However, Dr. David Dahlman recommends that people with digestive problems avoid all dairy products. The proteins in milk make dairy products very hard to digest, at least in countries where milk is always pasteurized. And in case you’re worried about osteoporosis, Dahlman points out that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that milk drinkers have stronger bones than those who avoid dairy. In fact, a Harvard University study showed that milk drinkers had a 40% increased risk of fracture!
Other sources of anti-inflammatory fatty acids include flax oil, olive oil, and canola oil. Certain fish including salmon, sardines and mackerel are also excellent sources of healthy oils.
Fried oils, trans fats and margarines are also high in pro-inflammatory oils and should be avoided.
During flare-ups, a diet high in soluble fiber helps to control symptoms of diarrhea. Soluble fiber foods tend to be starchy foods such as rice, quinoa, buckwheat, bananas, applesauce, mango, papaya, sweet potato, avocado, mushrooms, parsnips and carrots. White bread is also high in soluble fiber but because of the high incidence of wheat and gluten intolerance in people with inflammatory bowel disorders it is often not the best choice.
Elaine Gottschall, cell science researcher and author of “Breaking the Vicious Cycle,” has had great success with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to end the symptoms of Crohn’s, Colitis and other digestive ailments. Her book explains the science behind the dietary protocols and provides a complete nutritional program and recipes.
In their book “Dangerous Grains,” Dr. James Braly and Ron Hoggan, MA, identify gluten-containing foods as highly problematic for people with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis even when there is no diagnosis of Celiac Disease. They reveal the frightening and little-recognized link between gluten and cancer and list many other health conditions impacted by gluten grains including depression, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, arthritis, and fertility problems.
Other natural ways to reduce the possibility of inflammation:
Chemical sensitivities and emotional stress activate mechanisms in the body that contribute to inflammation. Avoiding chemicals in personal care, cleaning and laundry products by choosing natural alternatives is an easy way to protect against exposure to everyday toxins and help improve your bowel condition.
Dr. James LaValle, author of “Cracking the Metabolic Code,” points out that chemical toxins are one of several causes of damage to the lining of the intestines and trigger inflammation. A list of chemical toxins to avoid can be found here.
Stress from emotional issues, both past and present, can be greatly reduced using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). For an explanation and demonstration of EFT go to our article - What Is EFT?
Many people focus only on diet when using a natural approach to IBD. However, when you take persistent action to deal with food reactions, chemical toxins and emotional stress, you are more likely to get optimal results in clearing up your symptoms.