Millions of Americans are affected by painful and embarrassing inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). We all have to eat and eliminate waste to survive, but for some of us this process causes a lot of concern. In this article, we'll learn about inflammatory bowel diseases, how they develop, as well as what to do to minimize symptoms and embarrassment.
God designed the detailed and effective digestive system in our bodies. This system allows us to get the nutrients and energy we need from foods that we eat. As our food travels through the digestive tract it is broken down, absorbed, stored, reprocessed, and circulates throughout the body to nourish and renew cells and supply energy to our muscles. Just look at all the organs used to accomplish this:
- Small Intestine
- Large intestine
Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about these organs or how food processes through our body, but for many, this process noticeably affects their daily life.
Crohn’s Disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. With Crohn’s any part of the digestive tract can be inflamed but it is most common in the intestines.
This video, provided by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, provides a detailed explanation of Crohn’s disease.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms vary among individuals. Sometimes particular symptoms signal what part of the digestive tract is affected by the disease. Only a doctor can determine a true diagnosis, so if you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from Crohn’s disease, make an appointment for a full evaluation. Here are some common symptoms:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Bloody stool
- Mouth sores
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
What causes Crohn’s?
Causes of Crohn’s are not well known. However, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation states that recent research links hereditary, genetic, and environmental influences as contributing factors to the development of the disease and that experts claim diet and stress may aggravate the disease. The Mayo Clinic also states that it’s possible a virus or bacteria may trigger Crohn’s. When your immune system goes to work against the virus or bacteria, an abnormal immune response causes the immune system to attack the cells in the digestive tract.
The UCLA Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases explains the similarities and differences of Crohn’s and Colitis.
Crohn’s and Colitis are very similar.
- Both often develop in teenagers and young adults, but can develop anytime.
- Both affect men and women equally.
- Symptoms are very similar.
- Both have unknown causes, but have contributing factors of environment and genetics.
What’s the difference between Crohn’s disease and Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is only found in the colon (Large Intestine), whereas Crohn’s can occur anywhere within the digestive tract.
With Crohn’s disease there can be healthy parts of the intestine in-between inflamed areas. With Colitis, inflammation in the colon is continuous.
Ulcerative Colitis only affects the inner most lining of the colon while Crohn’s disease can occur in all layers of the bowel walls.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative Colitis is chronic inflammation of the large intestine or colon. With colitis, inflammation starts in the rectum and continues into the colon continuously. Different areas of the colon can be affected from small areas to the entire colon signifying its severity.
According to UCLA Health, in addition to the symptoms seen with Crohn’s, colitis may also lead to symptoms in other parts of the body:
- Itchy red eyes
- Swollen joints
- Kidney stones
These two inflammatory bowel diseases come with some embarrassing symptoms. Loose bowels and frequent gas can make one avoid social situations. Many with IBD experience anxiety, denial, dependence, increased stress, poor self-image, or depression. If symptoms become this distressing, seek spiritual, psychological, and/or medical help.
If these symptoms are just annoying and you would like some suggestions to minimize the embarrassment, check out these silly, yet real solutions that have given some relief:
- Phone app that disguises bathroom noises by making other sounds like running water or the hand dryer.
- Odor-neutralizing underwear includes a carbon cloth that filters out smells.
- Apps such as ‘Bathroom Scout’ or ‘Where to Wee’ that help you locate bathrooms near you.
- Wear adult incontinence products backwards.
A few helpful but less silly suggestions:
- Wear clothes that aren’t too tight around the belly.
- Eat less, more often.
- During flare-ups, eat baby food. Because it is easy to digest, it will give your bowels a rest.
- Exercise regularly to keep your immune system healthy.
Treatments for these diseases can vary greatly and include nutrition, anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, antibiotics, and, in severe cases, surgery.
This article by Dr. Fuhrman highlights a surprising, yet effective treatment option.
Conventional medical care includes immune system suppressing drugs which have life-shortening effects. Amino salicylate derivatives are poorly absorbed anti-inflammatory drugs with much fewer side effects and lower toxicity, but they are not sufficiently effective for serious cases. Many patients require surgery to remove heavily diseased areas.
There is an option that is the least toxic and most effective therapy yet – ingesting a solution containing thousands of eggs of ‘Trichuris suis” or “whipworms.” These eggs are harvested in a USDA laboratory.
Although they have a short lifespan, these worms have an immunosupprive effect on the bowel and can reside in the intestinal lumen without causing any symptoms.
In this second article by Dr. Fuhrman, he recommends the best diet for those who struggle with IBD.
Dr. Fuhrman suggests aggressive dietary modifications that are rich in protective nutrients. For those experiencing a flare-up he suggests getting these nutrients through green juices, green soups, and blended salads. He explains that raw fruits and vegetables can irritate inflammation, but blended salads and juices that are gently heated or puréed are best for periods of flare-ups.
He also suggests foods that may help in preventing a flare-up. “Many with Crohn’s disease will find they are sensitive to gluten, processed foods such as sugar, and animal products, and removing or reducing these over time may help. Other foods may be triggers and can be unique to each person, which may require an elimination diet to discover. Fruit intake may need to be reduced to low or moderate amounts in some.”
In attempting to prevent a flare-up or onset of the disease, the majority of food eaten should include anti-inflammatory foods, such as high fiber, high-micronutrient-dense foods such as green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables. Dr. Fuhrman states that these foods seem to have a protective effect against developing Crohn’s disease.
Finally, he recommends including probiotics and Omega-3 oils. Research indicates that healthy bacteria in our intestines can help to reduce inflammation and help maintain a healthy immune system. Probiotic supplements can help to increase healthy bacteria. In addition, some benefit from supplemental omega-3 oils as an anti-inflammatory aid.
While the causes of Crohn’s and Colitis are merely speculation, and there is no known cure for either, both are manageable if you are committed to making necessary changes. Dietary changes and the above mentioned treatments should be discussed with one’s doctor to determine if it is the right fit for each patient.