Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for a group of chronic intestinal disorders which together pose a wide variety of symptoms and challenges to control.
The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The primary difference is that Crohn’s creates an inflammatory reaction through the entire thickness of the bowel wall, most frequently in a localized area of the small intestine. Other Crohn’s symptoms include inflammation of the mouth, esophagus and stomach, diarrhea, fever and lower abdominal pain. Loss of appetite, weight loss and fatigue are also common.
Ulcerative colitis does not generally involve the entire thickness of the bowel wall. Physical signs include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, loss of weight, fever, anal fissures and hemorrhoids.
IBD affects all age groups, but is most prevalent among 15-35 year-olds. Females are slightly more susceptible than males, and Caucasians far more prone than people of Asian or African heritage. Incidence among Jews is 3-5 times that of Gentiles. There is a genetic predisposition to both disorders, but other causes are difficult to identify with certainty. Viruses and bacteria, an auto-immune link (where the body attacks itself), stress and depression all play a role. There are indications that diet and exposure to antibiotics also contribute to IBD, but identifying a particular cause for a given patient can be challenging. Both varieties of IBD increase the chance of developing colon cancer.
IBD is conventionally treated with steroid-based medications. Steroids greatly reduce inflammation, but often have harmful side effects, including vitamin and mineral depletion, increased blood sugar and cholesterol, as well as impaired healing and bone formation. In extreme cases, surgery may also be prescribed to remove the afflicted section of intestine.
A carefully regulated diet can both help combat inflammation and bolster the body’s defences against IBD. Red meat, peanuts, refined sugar, dairy, and processed foods are all inflammatory and thus should be avoided, along with alcohol and caffeine. Other foods such as corn and glutinous grains (wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt and kamut) can trigger sensitivities or allergic responses which an elimination diet can help detect.
Fish, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds all have anti-inflammatory properties. Probiotics (“good” bacteria) help normalize the flora of the digestive tract, increase absorption and reduce diarrhea. The amino acid L-glutamine and herbs such as marshmallow root, comfrey, slippery elm and poke root are soothing and healing to the gut. Because IBD hampers the absorption of nutrients, patients may also require supplementary doses of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, zinc, magnesium and potassium. Intravenous vitamin/mineral therapy, whereby high doses are injected directly into the blood stream bypassing the digestive system, can boost the rate of absorption.
Like other digestive disorders, IBD is exacerbated by stress. Regular exercise, yoga, massage and tai chi all improve relaxation; proper sleep hygiene is also essential. Many patients can find relief in acupuncture and Chinese herb treatment.
No cure has been discovered for IBD. However, for patients who follow a careful regimen of dietary control, supplements, exercise and stress management, there is an excellent chance that symptoms can be greatly reduced or eliminated altogether.
©Dr. Gordon, 2012.