Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) encompasses a collection of conditions that affect the digestive tract. The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease (usually affecting the lower small intestine) and ulcerative colitis (affecting the large intestine). IBD results from immunologic imbalances in the gut that lead to chronic inflammation. Suppressing inflammation is the chief goal of IBD treatment.
IBD patients are at increased risk of colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other inflammatory conditions. Therefore, people diagnosed with IBD should have regular colon cancer screenings and monitor inflammatory markers.
Natural interventions such as vitamin D and probiotics may help reduce inflammation and modulate immune function for patients with IBD.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Note: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can have similar symptoms and may include:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Diarrhea (often with blood, mucus, and/or pus)
- Painful bowel movements
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, 5-aminosalicylic acid and corticosteroids)
- Immunosuppressing drugs (eg, azathioprine, cyclosporine, and methotrexate)
- Other drugs (eg, cromolyn sodium and naltrexone)
- Surgery to remove severely damaged sections of the intestinal tract
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Be Beneficial for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
- Crohn’s disease patients should quit smoking
- Avoid foods that cause sensitivity. Bothersome foods vary between individuals, so get tested for IgG antibodies and eliminate any foods that cause symptoms.
- Supplement to correct potential nutrient deficiencies.
- Crohn’s disease patients should consider avoiding the use of aspirin.
- Ulcerative colitis patients should consider avoiding foods high in sulfur-containing amino acids.
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
- Probiotics. Alterations in the gut microbiome can influence immune function. Multiple clinical trials have shown benefits of probiotic use in patients with IBD. Bacteriophages, viruses that target bacteria, have also gained interest for improving IBD by ridding the gut of harmful bacteria.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful immunoregulatory agents that reduce circulating inflammatory cytokines. Clinical trials in patients with IBD have shown benefits of supplementation and correlation with disease remission.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an immunomodulator that aids in suppressing inflammation in the gut. Patients with IBD often have low vitamin D levels. Taking vitamin D may lower the risk of relapse in IBD patients and improve bone health, which is important as bone loss is a major concern in patients with IBD.
- Antioxidants. Patients with IBD have high levels of reactive oxygen species in their intestines, which contributes to damage caused by the disease. An antioxidant combination of vitamins A, C, E, and selenium in combination with fish oil can reduce certain inflammatory markers in Crohn’s disease.
- Curcumin. Curcumin inhibits the inflammatory signaling protein NF-κB, which is important in IBD. Curcumin reduced symptoms of IBD in a small clinical trial and improved the relapse rate when used as an adjuvant therapy in another.
- Boswellia. Resin from Boswellia trees, which contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound, has been shown to be as effective at treating IBD as some conventional drugs.
- Wormwood. Wormwood blocks the proinflammatory cytokine TNF-α, which may account for its effectiveness at maintaining remission in Crohn’s patients who tapered off their medications.
- Aloe gel. Gel from the inside of aloe leaves has immunomodulating, gut healing, and inflammation-quelling properties. Patients with ulcerative colitis saw acute flares improve with aloe gel.
- Butyrate. Butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid produced from the metabolism of intestinal fiber, has provided relief for both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients.
- Other natural interventions that may benefit patients with IBD include L-carnitine, glutamine, melatonin, vitamin K, and others.