Inflammatory Bowel Disorders (Colitis, IBD)
By Steven Horne, RH (AHG) & Kimberly Balas, ND
See also Celiac Disease, Colitis and Leaky Gut Syndrome
The term Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a broad term referring to any disease characterized by inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. The two most common types of these diseases are Crohn's and ulcerative colitis. Both of these conditions can make your life miserable with symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps, rectal bleeding, fever, joint pain, loss of appetite and fatigue, not to mention fistulas and complications that can require surgery to remove part or all of the colon. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 1.4 million Americans suffer from IBD, and 10% of those are children.
The main difference between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis is the location and nature of the inflammation.
Crohn's can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from mouth to anus, although most cases start in the ileum. Ulcerative colitis is restricted to the colon and the rectum. Microscopically, ulcerative colitis is restricted to the epithelial lining of the gut, while Crohn's disease affects the entire wall of the bowel.
People Who live in Western countries have a higher risk for developing IBD than people in other countries. However, as countries industrialize and adopt Western diets and lifestyles, IBD increases. So, there is definitely a lifestyle cause.
Smokers are at higher risk of developing Crohn's disease, whereas they are at lower risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Research has linked long-term oral contraceptive use to a higher risk of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's. Other drugs, such as isotretinoin (Accutane), could also play a role. Pain-relieving NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) can worsen IBD symptoms but are not thought to increase the risk of getting the disease initially.
Studies report a possible link to over consumption of foods high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which suggests that a lack of omega-3 essential fatty acids may be involved.
A big factor may be the balance of bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract. Healthy intestines contain trillions of good bacteria or friendly flora. These organisms play a role in digesting certain foods (especially dairy), protecting the body from infection and regulating the immune responses.
Antibiotics and other drugs can disrupt the balance of these intestinal bacteria, as can infections with harmful bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Both of these bacteria have been associated with IBD. They are ingested in contaminated food and are responsible for thousands of cases of food poisoning each year.
Since Stress can trigger these bowel disorders, it's possible they may have emotional triggers, too. Adrenal fatigue results in lower levels of cortisol, which controls inflammation. Also, stress can be a factor in the regulation of the immune system, which may aggravate the autoimmune factor in intestinal inflammation.
The following five measures have helped many people bring Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis under control.
1. Adopt a Paleo Diet
Just a few thousand years ago, practically all human beings lived on what has been called the hunter-gatherer or paleo diet. These people simply collected the foods nature provided, which means they ate wild game and fish, raw milk and wild plant foods. Grain was not a significant part of this diet, and what grains and seeds were consumed were typically soaked and/or fermented before consumption. In addition, foods were not sterilized, so people had a wider range of gut microflora (probiotics) than people do today.
As mankind learned to farm, diets changed. Today, we consume a large amount of grain and simple sugars. The meat and dairy products we consume are also raised on grain instead of grass. Dairy products are no longer whole and raw. Naturally fermented foods and other foods containing probiotics are not consumed. These changes in diet are probably the underlying cause of all of these diseases of the intestines.
The place to start is to avoid all gluten-bearing grains, induding wheat (bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, semolina), barley (malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar), rye, triticale, spelt and kamut. This is an absolute necessity when working with celiac disease, but is also important for any IBD. Usually rice, corn, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa will be okay because they don't contain gluten. However, some people have found that in the beginning stages of therapy, it can be helpful to avoid all grains to give the intestines a better chance to heal. Many people also find it a good idea to avoid all legumes (beans, soy products, lentils and peas) as well.
It may also be necessary to avoid all dairy products. Some people will do all right with cultured dairy like yoghurt and cheese, but many people have to eliminate all dairy foods. It is also important to avoid eating refined sugars of all kinds and may even be helpful to eliminate honey, maple syrup and sugary fruits. In addition, people with IBD and IBS should avoid products sweetened with manitol, sorbitol and xylitol.
Ideally, the diet should include servings of meat from grass-fed animals, eggs from pasture-raised chickens, wild-caught fish and game, and lots of vegetables, particularly non-starchy ones like zucchini, greens (such as mustard greens, beet greens, Swiss chard and kale), broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
Good fats, like butter from grass-fed cows, coconut oil and avocados are also acceptable.
2. Use Natural Anti-inflammatories
Consuming soothing mucilaginous herbs has proven helpful in treating all types of inflammatory bowel disorders. A good remedy to consider is aloe vera juice. A double-blind, randomized trial examined the effectiveness and safety of aloe vera in the treatment of mild-to-moderate cases Of IBS.
Researchers gave 30 patients 100 milliliters of oral aloe vera and 14 patients milliliters of a placebo twice daily for 4 weeks.
Results with the aloe vera were: clinical remission in 9 patients, improvement in 11 patients and a positive response in 14 patients. The results for the placebo were just 1 clinical remission, 1 improvement and 2 positive responses.
Another good herbal remedy for soothing the intestinal tract is slippery elm. It is best used in bulk form and made into gruel. Combine one teaspoon of the powder with one teaspoon of honey and two cups of boiling water. Stir well. Flavor with cinnamon and drink one or two cups twice a day. Bulk slippery elm may also be blended with juice or nut milks if honey can't be tolerated.
It can also help to take a good Anti-lnflammatory Formula like IF Relief. One of the ingredients in this formula, boswellia, has been clinically proven to help IBS. A 1997 study of people with ulcerative colitis found that of those who took 350 milligrams pf boswellia extract three times daily experienced remission.
3. Manage Stress
Stress often acts as a trigger for IBD, IBS and Celiac disease. This is why nervine herbs can also help to manage them. Look for a good relaxing Nervine Formula where chamomile is a key ingredient. Chamomile is helpful here because it calms the nerves, regulates digestion and reduces inflammation.
Coffee, cola drinks, energy drinks, black tea and other sources of caffeine should be avoided. Caffeine stresses the adrenal glands and can increase feelings of anxiety, as well as inflammation. Also avoid stimulant drugs and alcohol.
Learn the skills listed under the Stress Management therapy. Practice breathing exercises to relax. Massage, yoga, regular exercise and meditation can also be helpful. Also consider using biofeedback, hypnotherapy or guided imagery to use the mind/body connection to heal the gut. You may even want to consider psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to work on emotional conflicts that can exacerbate symptoms.
4. Use Probiotics
A healthy digestive system contains thousands of species of friendly bacteria and people who live closer to the earth tend to have more species than people living in more sterile environments. It is very likely that the disruption of the friendly flora has a lot to do with the development of Crohn's, Celiac, colitis and IBS.
Research shows that probiotic supplements can be helpful with IBD. For example, a University of Alberta study examined 34 people with mild-to-moderate active ulcerative colitis who were unresponsive to conventional treatment. The researchers gave them a probiotic supplement providing a total of 3,600 billion bacteria a day for 6 weeks. At the end of the study, 18 people (53%) demonstrated remission and an additional 8 people (24%) had a favorable response.
In another study, researchers at the University of Dundee analyzed bacteria from rectal biopsies of patients with active ulcerative colitis and healthy control subjects. There were significantly less bifidobacterium numbers in the Ulcerative Colitis biopsies, suggesting that these probiotic bacteria might play a protective role against the disease. In a further study, 18 people with active Ulcerative Colitis were given a bifidobacterium supplement or a placebo for one month. Sigmoidoscopy, biopsy, and blood tests showed significant improvement in the probiotic group compared with the placebo group. While you can buy probiotic supplements, increasing consumption of cultured foods, especially naturally fermented vegetables, is more beneficial.
Some studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation in people with ulcerative colitis. A critical analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at controlled trials published from 1966 to 2003 concerning IBD and omega-3 fatty acids. Although the researchers concluded that more research is needed, three studies found that omega-3 fatty acids reduced the need for corticosteroids.
In other research conducted at the Cleveland Clinic, an oral supplement containing fish oil, soluble fiber, and antioxidants (vitamins C and E with selenium) was given to adults with mild-to-moderate Ulcerative Colitis. In the study, 86 patients with Ulcerative Colitis consumed 18 ounces of the supplement or a placebo each day for 6 months. Patients taking the oral supplement had a significantly lower rate of need for prednisone over 6 months compared with the placebo group. Both groups showed significant and similar improvement in clinical and histological responses.
A high fiber diet may also be beneficial for some, but during the active stages of the illness, raw fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts will irritate the digestive system. A Fiber Supplement like Everybody's Fiber, which is based primarily on slippery elm and marshmallow, could be beneficial.
Intestinal Soothe and Build contains herbs that can help damaged intestinal membranes to heal and is one of the best formulas for these conditions. Enzyme supplements may be helpful, too.
Below is a list of suggested products. Those in bold are key products for the health issue explained on this page.
Herbs: Aloe Vera, Black Walnut, Chamomile, Horsetail, Licorice Root, Marshmallow, Slippery Elm Bulk, Wild Yam and Yellow Dock
Herbal Formulas: CLT-X, IF Relief, IF-C, Intestinal Soothe & Build, Kudzu/St. John's Wort, Liver Balance, Nature's Three and Stress-J
Herbal Extracts: CurcuminBP
Nutrients: Magnesium, MSM, Probiotics, Protease, Sunshine Heroes Omega 3 With DHA and Sunshine Heroes Probiotic Power
Nutritional Supplements: Nutri-Calm and Vitamin B-Complex
Nutraceuticals: Bowel Detox, Everybody's Fiber, Food Enzymes, Gentle Move, Proactazyme and Small Intestine Detox, Super Trio