As a nod to World Digestive Health Day, I wanted to write a blog to help you understand “what is IBD?” And, more importantly, how you can treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease naturally. In all his wisdom, Hippocrates spoke these infamous words: “All disease begins in the gut.” And as everyone’s now cottoning onto this a good 2,000 years later, you know firsthand what he’s talking about.
You’ve just been to the loo for the seventh time today. And as if standard diarrhoea wasn’t bad enough, you occasionally see bits of blood, pus and mucus in the mix. Not to mention the excruciating abdominal pain that comes with this. Your mouth feels like it’s on fire with ulcers, you’re losing weight, have no appetite and are experiencing a level of fatigue you didn’t think was humanly possible to live with (which you’ve been told could be linked to anaemia – another symptom you’ve added to your list).
You’re also dealing with inflamed joints (or what’s otherwise known as arthritis), headaches and the occasional low-grade fever. To make matters worse, your eyes are bloodshot. You know it’s due to inflammation, but you’re starting to feel like people might think you’re a drug dealer.
But to be honest, you couldn’t care less. Although having Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can be overwhelming, it’s at least encouraging that it has gained attention during this year’s World Digestive Health Day.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
It’s a name that actually makes sense: it’s (significant) inflammation of the small intestine or the colon (aka: our bowel).
Two main types of IBD are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Crohn’s Disease can result in patchy inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract. So it can include both the small and large intestines. Whereas, Ulcerative Colitis primarily causes continuous inflammation in the colon (large intestine) and the rectum.
How Do I Know if I’ve Got IBD?
If you can identify with any of the symptoms mentioned above, it sure is worthwhile having a chat with your GP (if you haven’t already).
Various tests may be done to diagnose it – these include a colonoscopy (where they pop a camera up your bum and have a look around), possible biopsy (taking of tissue samples during this exploratory procedure), a barium enema (an X-ray of the large intestine), raised calprotectin & lactoferrin on stool samples (which help to differentiate between irritable bowel syndrome – IBS – and IBD) and then of course looking out for inflammatory markers as well as signs of anaemia & malnutrition on blood tests.
All of these needs to be pieced together, and actual diagnosis has to be carried out by a Medical Professional, such as your GP or a gastroenterologist.
What Causes IBD?
Let’s take a step back and examine: What specific factors in your life and health history might contribute to the complex development of IBD? Let’s consider a few of these below:
Antibiotics (& Other Meds)
Yes – those things we all used to knock back like smarties at the first sign of a cold. Not ideal for IBD. Although not solely responsible, a study comparing 2,400 individuals with IBS to 22,000 controls from a major North American database suggests that taking antibiotics may raise the likelihood of acquiring Crohn’s Disease. And when used extensively in conjunction with a poor diet and lifestyle, already genetically susceptible individuals may find themselves at even higher risk.
Then, although there’s not a direct association between treating acne with Isotretinoin (Sotret, Claravis, Amnesteem – formerly known as Accutane), one study does indicate that the use of this medication could be a risk factor for the development of Ulcerative Colitis. Although further studies are warranted, this study showed there may be a link between non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs & the exacerbation of IBD.
That’s right – what we eat impacts how we (and consequently our digestive tracts) function. So highly processed foods (which typically include processed veg oils, grains & sugar) are considered pro-inflammatory and when we’re dealing with INFLAMMATORY bowel disease? Not the best plan.
Nah – I’m not getting all Latin on you. All this means is that our gut bugs are out of balance: too many of the bad bugs and not enough of the good guys. And ain’t nobody got time for that. Why? Because, amongst other things, this imbalance can send our immune system out of whack. Normally, the immune system remains inactive when everything is working fine. However, if the gut barrier gets damaged, foreign substances that would normally be removed can accumulate, triggering hyperactivity of the immune system and causing inflammation.
Even though there does seem to be a strong genetic link in the development of IBD, it doesn’t have to be a given. Many claim that genes set the stage, but environmental factors trigger the disease. Thus, the factors discussed above could heighten disease risk in those with a genetic predisposition.
What Can Be Done to Treat IBD Naturally?
Take a look at your diet & lifestyle:
- Ditch processed foods and grain-fed dairy & animal sources – they’re not helpful on the inflammation front.
- Get involved with anti-inflammatory foods such as wild caught oily fish and turmeric.
- Include a wide variety of fruit & veg in your intake and monitor how you respond to fibre.
- You’ll most likely have to consider a modified elimination diet, but it’s highly recommended that this is done with guidance from a health care professional.
- Based on blood work & symptoms, supplement sensibly. To begin with we’re talking glutamine, vitamin D, a multi-nutrient – possibly plant enzymes and omega 3 fish oil, amongst others. This is best done with the help of a healthcare professional and may require specific supplement formulations (such as liposomal) to improve absorption.
- Do away with dysbiosis – this is where stool testing can be really helpful in establishing what bad bacteria (and possibly parasites) need to be targeted.
- Nip stress in the bud – I recommend Headspace to begin with.
These are all just starting points but if you need some support along the way? My door’s open – let’s chat
This blog was written by guest blogger Lara Rickard, who is an HCPC registered dietitian and a functional medicine practitioner with Marula Wellness. Lara offers preferential rates to Central Health Physio patients who are looking for advice on, for example, nutrition, weight loss, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.