by: Kelly Brown, B.Sc., N.D.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes extensive inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract causing multiple symptoms, most commonly chronic diarrhea. IBD has periods of flare ups during which times the symptoms come and go. IBD is comprised of two separate conditions of the GI tract, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC). Both of these conditions cause extensive inflammation of the GI tract but also can often be distinguished by different manifestations. Crohn’s disease is intermittent, causing flare ups during certain periods of life and is typically characterized by diarrhea. Typically, it initially occurs in the 20s and again in the late 40s or early 50s. Crohn’s disease appears in the small intestines 80% of the time. The inflammation is scattered throughout the intestines with patches of intestine in between that show no inflammation at all. Crohn’s often causes fistulas or abscess, which are holes that have formed through the intestines. Ulcerative colitis also consists of inflammation but is found in the colon of the digestive tract. It always starts at the rectum and works upwards. The inflammation of the colon walls causes ulcers in the colon which creates bloody diarrhea. Both Crohn’s disease and UC will cause abdominal cramping or abdominal pain. IBD is a combination of these two diseases causing a variety of gastrointestinal problems. Having IBD can also cause multiple associated conditions not occurring in the gut such as malabsorption of nutrients, arthritis and inflammation and sometimes liver disease.
Management of IBD involves symptomatic medication therapy (pain killers) as well as medication to decrease inflammation and diarrhea. These are often prescribed, usually by a Gastroenterologist. Naturopathic Medicine can also be extremely beneficial to patients with IBD. Anti-inflammatory herbs, supplements, dietary and lifestyle changes are all used in treatment. Supplements often include probiotics, fish oils and quercetin.
What probiotics essentially are, are the “good” bacteria that live in your gut. The bacteria in the digestive system helps break down food to extract nutrients to be used in the gut, throughout the body, or to be eliminated. The probiotics in the gut also help with immune function and with decreasing inflammation. This is done by helping with the tissue of the gut in secretion (dispersing nutrients), barrier function (warding off infection) and antibacterial effects. Probiotics can also blunt the inflammatory effects of certain cells, called Tcells, which are present in the inflammation in IBD. A combination probiotic is the best way to treat IBD.
For treating IBD, studies show that using the fish oils that contain only Omega 3s can have many beneficial effects. Fish oils have been shown to decrease the degree of inflammation by decreasing what is called inflammatory prostaglandins.
Quercetin is a plant pigment found in many plants and foods. It can be found in onions, St.John’s wort, red wine, and Ginkgo biloba. It is called a favonoid. Flavonoids are the molecular structure that can reduce inflammation in many conditions. Quercetin specifically contains multiple enzymes which help in the reduction of inflammation in the body. Quercetin showed a reversal of inflammatory effects as well as healing of any lesion in the gut. Taking high dose of Quercetin supplements before meals will help patients achieve great outcomes in managing IBD.
Diet is a major complementary “treatment” to consider because IBD occurs in the gastrointestinal tract and so does digestion of food. It is also a safe and economical way to keep IBD in remission. A few different dietary modifications have been studied in IBD. The most recent research is on removing gluten from the diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt. It is found in breads, pasta, baked goods and hidden in many other products. Studies show that a large number of patients who attempted a gluten free diet; the majority of them had improvement or remission. Diets that were high in alcohol and processed meats showed an increased likelihood of UC relapsing. Eliminating gluten, alcohol, processed meats, and any food intolerances from the diet will help in the management of IBD. Dietary changes and the need for an elimination diet can be determined by a Naturopathic doctor and often will help in lifestyle adjustment.
Western diet and lifestyle are demonstrating an increase in IBD in North America, United Kingdom and Scandinavia. Genetic factors are also shown to play a role in the disease. Crohn's disease seems to be more associated with genetics than Ulcerative colitis. Naturopathic medicine can play a major role in management and remission of IBD. Having proper gut flora (gut bacteria), taking appropriate amounts of fish oils, supplementing with quercetin and managing the diet appropriately can have a positive impact on IBD treatment.
If experiencing any symptoms such as; abdominal cramping, blood in the stool, fatigue (due to malabsorption), weight loss, loss of appetite, and/or rectum fissures, please see your doctor. Research is always growing on IBD and new studies are being released on supplementation and dietary changes to help with management and discovering causes of the disease. If diagnosed with IBD it is important to seek help from your medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, and support of family and friends, to get to a state of remission.