This month we are bringing awareness to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
1 in 140 Canadians live with Crohn’s or Colitis, and with the exact cause for disease still remaining unknown, there are many theories as to why it develops. With many preventative dietary and lifestyle changes available, it is still possible to navigate these diseases without the need for medication.
Let’s shine more light on gastrointestinal health and take a look at these diseases.
What is Crohn’s?
Known as a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s can involve any part of your small or large intestine. It may involve multiple segments, or it may be continuous. Signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Crohn’s causes inflammation or swelling and irritation in the digestive tract. This causes inflammation and a painful ulceration which can cause quite an uncomfortable day-to-day life.
Symptoms include: various forms of pain in the abdomen, fatigue, bleeding bowel movements severe diarrhea, weight loss and malnutrition.
What is Colitis?
Colitis is another inflammatory disease of the bowel which leads to irritation and ulceration in the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. People with this disease feel generally unwell most of the time due to the constant inflammation in their digestive tract.
Symptoms include: bloody diarrhea, rectal bleeding and pain, abdominal pain, weight loss, and fatigue.
Both Crohn’s and Colitis are autoimmune diseases whereby the immune system is dysfunctional and attacks the various parts of the digestive tract. Some strategies to manage these inflammatory bowel diseases include: identifying food sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, supporting healthy gut flora, managing stress, and supporting immune health.
So how can we manage these diseases?
- Identifying food sensitivities.
The biggest impact in reducing inflammation and supporting our immune system is from the way we nourish ourselves. If you are already aware of your food sensitivities, staying away from the foods that cause inflammation is key, and if you suspect that you are intolerant but haven’t yet confirmed it, I suggest having a food sensitivity test conducted. Common food sensitivities include dairy, gluten, soy and eggs.
- Consider taking some supplements for Gut Health.
Probiotics are useful to boost digestive function and recolonize the digestive system with healthy gut bacteria. Digestive enzymes help with digestion and nutrient absorption. Research also shows that the amino acid glutamine can positively affect gut health by supporting the gut microbiome and the integrity of the gut lining as well as reduce the inflammatory response. Supportive herbs such as slippery elm, ginger, DGL and marshmallow root help soothe inflammation as well.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
Minimizing inflammatory foods such as sugar, red meat, processed foods, dairy, gluten, caffeine and alcohol is highly beneficial and at the same time increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, oregano, cinnamon, rosemary and ginger.
People with IBD often are prone to dehydration because of the loss of electrolytes from frequent diarrhea. Drinking plenty of water and adding extra electrolytes is often beneficial. To ensure you are choosing the right electrolyte mix without any junk additives, look for sodium, magnesium and potassium in the ingredients list and avoid artificial sweeteners.
Stress is another major contributing factor in Crohn’s and Colitis. Practicing stress management techniques such as yoga, breathwork, massage, acupuncture, and meditation will help to support the harmony of the mind and body. Supporting the stress glands (adrenals) with B vitamins and herbs such as Rhodiola, Siberian Ginseng and Ashwagandha can also beneficial.
To conclude, if you are living with gastrointestinal pain, know that you are not alone. Your biggest ally in this journey of healing is your nutrition, and if you need to talk about this to your health care provider, I encourage it. Opening up to your friends and family is also a way to bring connection, support and relief - knowing that it’s ok to not be okay and that your body is capable of well-being and the support of professionals and loved ones.