Crohn's disease is a more serious form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that usually develops in the lowest parts of the small and large intestines but can also occur elsewhere in the digestive tract. Symptoms include loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea, cramping, pain in the abdomen, and weight loss. Stress can worsen symptoms but doesn't cause the disease.
Although we don't know all the factors that lead to the development of Crohn's disease, a recently discovered gene may point the way to new treatments and even to a way to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place. The gene is linked to a cellular receptor for interleukin-23 (IL-23), a protein involved in immunity and the inflammatory process. New anti-inflammatory drugs in the pipeline may work for Crohn's disease and for other forms of IBD as well, such as ulcerative colitis.
While Crohn's disease can't yet be cured, it can be managed successfully and can remain in remission for long periods of time. Conventional medicine treats it with a variety of drugs, nutritional supplements and, when necessary, surgery. My personal preference is to first send patients with Crohn's disease to practitioners of modern Chinese medicine, which includes acupuncture and herbal remedies in addition to dietary adjustment and, possibly, massage and energy work. I have seen some very good results from this approach. Ayurvedic medicine, radical dietary change, and long-term fasting (under supervision) can also be helpful. A high fiber diet may also provide a benefit, but during the active stages of the illness, raw fruits and vegetables and seeds and nuts will irritate the digestive system.
You can also try the following approaches, which may help bring the disease under control:
- Avoid coffee, decaf, all other sources of caffeine and all stimulant drugs.
- Avoid milk and all milk products.
- Avoid products sweetened with sorbitol, xylitol, or other sugar alcohols.
- Take slippery elm in the form of gruel: Combine one teaspoon of the powder with one teaspoon of sugar and two cups of boiling water. Stir well. Flavor with cinnamon and drink one or two cups twice a day.
- IF cramping is a problem, take enteric-coated capsules of peppermint oil between meals to relieve the spasmodic component of inflammatory bowel disease
- Practice breathing exercises for relaxation.
- Because stress can worsen symptoms, take a course in biofeedback or experiment with hypnotherapy and guided imagery to use the mind/body connection to heal the gut.
- Consider psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to work on emotional conflicts that can exacerbate symptoms.
- To address inflammation, increase your dietary omega-3 fatty acids by taking supplemental fish oil, start with one gram a day and increase slowly to two to four grams a day. watch for any increase in diarrhea, and cut back the dose if necessary.
Andrew Weil, M.D.