Introduction to Crohn's Disease
Crohn's disease is a disorder marked by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The illness is similar to another inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis. While Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive system, it primarily impacts the colon and the end of the small intestines, called the ileum. Patients with the condition can experience symptoms like abdominal pain, persistent diarrhea, bloody stool, and weight loss. It is theorized that Crohn's disease results when the body's immune system attacks non-threatening substances like bacteria or food in the gastrointestinal tract. Severe illness can result in the swelling, scarring, and blockage of the intestines, and many patients are forced to have surgery to remove damaged bowel sections.
Currently, there is no definitive cure for Crohn's disease, and its exact cause remains unknown. There are many medications on the market and in development that help alleviate symptoms, but no drug is completely effective. Moreover, many of these medications, such as corticosteroids and immunosuppressants, have significant side effects. The shortcomings of traditional pharmaceutical therapies have led several patients with Crohn's disease to try complementary and alternative medicine for relief.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Complementary and alternative treatments include natural substances like vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbs, as well as therapies like homeopathy, acupuncture, and hypnosis. Altering or restricting one's diet is another common response to Crohn's disease, as eating certain foods can exacerbate symptoms. Much like the patient response to pharmaceuticals, some Crohn's disease sufferers respond to natural remedies or alternative medicine, while others do not. Nevertheless, many holistic and non-traditional practices are becoming more mainstream, and it is useful for Crohn's disease patients to be familiar with complementary and alternative treatments.
Specific Therapies for Crohn's Disease
The following are examples of alternative therapies that have been beneficial for some people with Crohn's disease. Please be aware that evidence of effectiveness specifically among Crohn's disease patients can be limited, and some studies involving these substances and treatments were not placebo-controlled.
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids: typically taken in the form of fish oil supplements, omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and have shown promise for some people with Crohn's disease.
- Probiotics (beneficial bacteria): there is some evidence that ingesting various bacterial strains can help Crohn's disease patients maintain remission.
- Vitamins: nutrient deficiencies are common in people with Crohn's disease. B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin E, and zinc are among vitamins recommended for patients.
- Diet: many Crohn's disease patients find certain foods more problematic than others. Some individuals feel better when avoiding or limiting dairy products, gluten, refined sugars, fiber, fatty foods, or fried foods. Experiences in this area seem to vary greatly among patients.
- Boswellia: resin derived from boswellia serrata trees is used as the basis of an herbal preparation that can help reduce inflammation in the body.
- Curcumin (turmeric): curcumin is another botanical substance that alleviates inflammation and also is an antioxidant.
- Aloe: patients can drink aloe in juice or gel form to promote intestinal healing, but aloe has laxative properties which can cause problems for Crohn's disease patients.
- Glutamine (l-glutamine): this amino acid can help preserve intestinal integrity and build strength and stamina.
- Bromelain: researchers have found that this digestive enzyme derived from pineapple has anti-inflammatory effects in colon biopsies of patients with inflammatory bowel disease.
- Acupuncture (moxibustion, acupressure): this component of traditional Chinese medicine has been shown to be beneficial for patients with a variety of ailments, including Crohn's disease.
- Exercise: a low-intensity fitness program can improve quality of life in patients with Crohn's disease while not making symptoms worse.
Crohn's disease is a debilitating digestive disorder with an unknown cause. There is no conventional treatment that can cure or soothe all people afflicted with the illness. As a result, complementary and alternative medicine has become quite common among individuals with the disease. While there remains no alternative therapy that is completely effective, there are several supplements and practices that have been beneficial for some patients.