Gastro-Intestinal (GI) disorders such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) seem to be on the rise in developed countries. As more countries increasingly eat fast food and animal products their populations grow sicker.
More and more research and studies are showing that what you eat is much more important to chronic health conditions than conventional medicine previously believed.
"You are what you eat" is not just a witty thing to say, but is thoroughly based in science. Each food you consume is broken down in the body, and each cell in your body is made up of and fed by these component parts.
By chronically eating foods that cause inflammation, our bodies begin to grow ill and the eventual result is chronic disease. In fact, most chronic diseases begin in the gut.
How do you know if you just have a simple irritated gut or if it is something more serious going on? How many of the following symptoms do you have?
If you answered "yes" to three or more of these you might want to consider getting checked for Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease can actually be pretty tricky to diagnose with complete certainty. The best way is to combine a colonoscopy, medical history, blood work, and sometimes even a CT scan and/or biopsy.
Upon examination the intestine will have patchy areas of ulcers and scarring. These are known as skip lesions because the damage skips around the gut in patches instead of the ulcers involving all the tissue like it does in ulcerative colitis. There are also usually constricted areas of the intestines that can cause painful and dangerous stool blockages.
There is a great deal of debate in medical circles as to the exact cause of Crohn’s. Although they've identified a genetic component, it is believed that unhealthy lifestyle factors wake the disease out of its dormancy and cause it to express itself.
Some studies blame the condition on a high count of uninvited rogue bacteria that cause the side effects. This is much like a chicken and egg argument. Did the bacteria move in because the gut was unhealthy first, or did the bacteria move in first and cause the gut to be unhealthy?
Other researchers believe it is caused by an autoimmune-like condition but is not truly an autoimmune disease. The immune system is attacking other things but not the body itself, and the intestine is just collateral damage. Almost all research says the inflammatory process is not working properly; it is either too strong or too weak.
Crohn’s patients who eat meat and dairy have a high correlation to developing colon cancer. If the damage goes on long enough the intestine can become so damaged that a section will have to be removed.
The most common area of the intestine to be damaged is the ileocecal (ill-ee-o-see-kul) section. If a person has to have that section cut out they will lose their very important back-flow ileocecal valve. This will result in a much higher chance of developing lifelong Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO.)
Although I am speaking anecdotally, in my clinical experience a poor lifestyle and diet seems to be the main factor in developing this disease. The patients who develop it tend to be stressed out, smoke, and eat animal products every day.
Unfortunately there is not much research in the natural management of Crohn’s so I will be speaking more anecdotally with what I have actually observed in my own practice.
To simplify this, Crohn’s is basically an extreme case of leaky gut. People with Crohn's are usually eating something they are highly sensitive to and are causing themselves chronic intestinal inflammation. Once they have inflammation long enough it causes chronic disease processes to take hold in the body.
The best place to start is to identify and remove the inflaming agents. They sell blood-testing kits online that will help you get an idea of what the most offending foods are.
If you have this condition you have no business eating animal products again. The good news is these days there are some great plant-based diets that will help you transition. In addition there are very tasty vegetarian "meats" and "dairy" products now widely available in the grocery store. This is the eating plan I recommend to anyone who wants an anti-inflammatory diet.
Smoking has to go too because it is extremely inflammatory to the entire body. People who smoke greatly increase their chances of developing the symptoms of Crohn’s. This includes smoking recreational drugs or any substance that causes inflammation to the lungs.
Lastly, a person will want to manage their unhealthy gut bacteria at the same time they remove the inflammatory factors. I have my patients deal with the bacteria (using probiotics, for example) before I even start to help them repair the gut lining. After the bacteria is in balance, I then recommend a leaky gut protocol to help repair the damage.
You can remove inflammatory factors before going to your doctor but every case is a little different.
Your best bet is to go to a functional medicine doctor who will help guide you through the bacterial cleanup and gut repair.
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