Crohn's disease is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the digestive tract. It can affect any part, from the mouth to the anus, but is most common in the last section of the small intestine (the ileum) and the large intestine (the colon).
It is unknown exactly what causes Crohn's disease, but there a number of different factors which may play a part in its development. The underlying issue in Crohn's disease is inflammation of the lining of the gut. This is thought to be caused by a malfunction in the immune system which causes it to attack the bacteria which naturally live in your intestines.
There also appears to be a genetic factor, meaning that if a close family member suffers from Crohn's disease, you are more likely to as well. It is more common in Caucasians, especially those of European, Jewish descent. Environmental factors such as smoking also increase your risk of developing Crohn's disease.
The symptoms of Crohn's disease include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Weight loss
- Blood or mucus in the stools
There are also a number of complications that can arise as a result of Crohn's disease. A narrowing of the intestine (a stricture) or an abnormal connection between the bowel and the anus or vagina (a fistula) can develop.
Because people with Crohn's disease might have difficulty digesting certain foods, they are also more prone to deficiencies of vitamins and minerals and might need to take a supplement. Anemia (iron deficiency) is a particularly common problem.
People with Crohn's disease might experience long periods without symptoms and then have a flare-up. These flare-ups can be triggered by missing doses of medication, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which irritate the digestive system, antibiotics, certain foods, smoking, and stress.
Treatments for Crohn's disease include corticosteroids, immunosuppressants and surgery. However, these all carry their own individual risks and side effects and many people would prefer to manage their symptoms naturally.
How to Manage Crohn's Disease Naturally
Diet plays an important role in managing Crohn's disease naturally. This is because certain foods or drinks can cause flare-ups. The most common culprits include spicy, fatty or fried foods, dairy products and soda. However, trigger foods vary from person to person and it is a good idea to keep a food diary to find yours. Simply keep track of everything you eat and any symptoms you experience over the course of a few weeks. This should help you to see any patterns and identify foods to avoid in future.
Try to include more anti-inflammatory foods in your diet. Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods are those high in omega 3 fatty acids such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. Avocados, olive oil and dark fruits such as berries may also help. Turmeric is a spice used in both Indian and Chinese traditional medicine and is well known for its inflammation fighting properties.
Some people with Crohn's disease find that eating a low fibre diet can help with digestion, but this should be discussed with a nutritionist first. Another way to take the strain off your digestive system is to eat little and often, avoiding large or heavy meals.
Probiotics and prebiotics can be added to your diet to help to restore the balance of bacteria in your gut. You could also try some herbal remedies for Crohn's disease including curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), aloe vera and slippery elm.
Finally, reduce the chance of flare-ups but stopping smoking and keeping your stress levels down.
Can Acupuncture Help Crohn's Disease?
Acupuncture is a therapy that developed in China over 2000 years ago. It uses fine needles inserted at certain points on the body to maintain health and treat disease. Modern research has shown that acupuncture provides significant relief for patients with Crohn's disease. This randomized, controlled study found that acupuncture plus moxibustion, another ancient technique involving burning herbs on the acupoints, was 83.72% effective in Crohn's patients. It also reduced anemia, a common problem for people with Crohn's disease.
One of the ways in which acupuncture helps Crohn's disease is by regulating the immune system and reducing inflammation. The study found that acupuncture reduced inflammatory markers in the gut as well as relieving discomfort.
Another way in which acupuncture helps Crohn's disease is by relieving stress. Acupuncture is known to affect the central nervous system and release endorphins to promote relaxation and relieve physical and emotional tension. In this way, acupuncture can help to calm the symptoms of Crohn's disease as well as reducing the chance of flare-ups.