A Functional Medicine Guide to Crohn’s Disease | Dr. Will Cole
What is Crohn’s disease?
Like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease. As of 2015, about 1.3% of the United States population had IBD and this number has increased from 3 million in 1999. IBD is different from IBS in that it is characterized as an autoimmune disease, meaning the underlying cause of Crohn’s is an immune system malfunction that causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues. In the case of Crohn’s, the body attacks the intestinal lining, leading to localized inflammation.
What are the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?
The inflammation caused by Crohn’s can lead to a host of symptoms, including:
To be diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, these symptoms would have to be chronic and moderate to severe. A doctor will also do laboratory tests to check your inflammation levels and signs of nutrient deficiencies, anemia, and infection as well as X-rays, CT scans, and a colonoscopy and endoscopy to officially make a Crohn’s disease diagnosis.
What does a functional medicine Crohn’s diet plan look like?
If you’ve been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, you may have already noticed that certain foods seem to trigger your symptoms and other foods seem to be “safe.” And while every person’s trigger foods are slightly different, almost all Crohn’s patients can benefit from reducing their intake of:
You may be reading the list above and feel a little bummed out. Does this mean you can’t enjoy your morning cappuccino or popcorn at the movies? I recommend reducing these foods as much as possible, especially in the first few months, but you may be able to be more flexible once your symptoms have improved.
The good news is that there are a ton of delicious foods that can actually benefit your gut health, such as:
As a general rule, I’ve noticed that people with Crohn’s seem to benefit from eating cooked foods, which means soups, stews, and stir fry are your new best friends. If you have Crohn’s disease, you should work closely with your doctor and follow their instructions on medication and treatment. Crohn’s can have serious consequences and should not be ignored. That said, if your doctor does not seem open to dietary or lifestyle changes, or tells you they won’t make a difference, that is a red flag that you may want to find another physician to manage your care. Why? Because study after study has shown that lifestyle factors DO matter when it comes to Crohn’s and all inflammatory bowel disease for that matter.
What functional medicine therapies can help with Crohn’s disease?
Even though Crohn’s disease is a gut-centric disease, there are other non-food lifestyle choices that seem to be able to improve symptoms. If you have Crohn’s I recommend exploring the following:
1. Avoid smoking
Tobacco products have been linked to the development of Crohn’s and an increased number of flare-ups. (2)
2. Manage stress
Stress is not necessarily a cause of Crohn’s but it can definitely trigger flare-ups and worsen symptoms. I recommend yoga, meditation, or gratitude practices as a way to manage daily stress.
3. Take fish oil
Fish oil may help reduce the underlying inflammation present in Crohn’s disease. In fact, one study showed that patients taking fish oil were twice as likely to remain in remission compared to patients not taking fish oil. (3)
4. Try acupuncture
Another great option is the traditional Chinese medicine modality acupuncture. While the research isn’t conclusive, several clinical trials have shown promising results that acupuncture could be helpful for inflammatory bowel disease. (4)
5. Experiment with cannabis
Research on cannabis is hard to come by, but surveys have suggested that 15% of people with Crohn’s are already using cannabis to help with their symptoms. Plus, two small studies showed clinical improvements in Crohn’s symptoms with cannabis use. If cannabis is legal in your state, you may want to try experimenting with CBD and THC in different doses and ratios. (5)
Crohn’s disease can be overwhelming, painful, and uncomfortable. But here’s what I always tell my patients: Diet and lifestyle interventions can make a dent in your symptoms and help keep you in remission. Follow the advice above and see what works for you!
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This content was originally published here.