Crohn’s disease is a severe inflammatory condition of the lower bowel. The onset of symptoms can start at any age, however, usually they manifest in the late teens. It is rare in very young children.
Crohn’s disease is typically diagnosed among people from their late teens to early thirties, but the disease can also occur in infants and children.
- Extreme abdominal pain
- Diarrhoea – blood and mucus may be present in the stool
- Blood loss may lead to anaemia
- Pale, bulky, floating stools with foul odour (the medical term for this is “steatorrhoea” referring to the presence of fat in the stool, which is what causes it to float in the toilet bowl)
- Cramps or pain after eating
- Loss of appetite, fatigue, or weight loss
- Low blood iron
- Remission periods can range from weeks to months
The presence of these symptoms generally leads to medical investigation which reveals ulceration of parts of the digestive tract.
Infection may develop if the ulceration is not treated.
The actual cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but it may be linked to immune function and genes. It appears that the body’s own immune system attacks a part of the intestine, causing the area to become inflamed and then ulcerated, leading to poor food absorption and a high risk of infection.
Free radical damage has been found to play a role in the development of Crohn’s disease, and deficiency of the antioxidant nutrients vitamin C and vitamin E has also been implicated.
Smokers are more likely to suffer from this disease than non-smokers.
Diet can be a contributing factor – many patients find that certain foods aggravate their condition, and that avoiding those foods improves it; however, foods do not actually cause Crohn’s disease to develop.
At present, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, however, many people with the disease or with Crohn’s-like symptoms have found ways to relieve intestinal distress without drugs or surgery.
For best results, your programme should be tailored for your individual needs by your health professional.
- Slippery elm is a powdered form of fibre which absorbs large amounts of water – it forms a soothing protective layer over the inflamed and ulcerated tissue and may also be of assistance to bind the stool in episodes of diarrhoea; for best results use the powdered form of the herb and consume several glasses of water at the same time.
- Peppermint tea might help to reduce cramping or colicky pain.
- Supplementation with antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C and vitamin E and the mineral selenium is also recommended, to address the free radical activity which has been linked with the disease.
- Probiotic supplements such as acidophilus and bifidus may help to restore bowel regularity, and are particularly indicated following treatment with antibiotics and steroidal medication.
- If blood loss has occurred an iron supplement may be indicated – choose a formulation containing a gentle-to-the-stomach iron form such as iron fumarate in order to avoid aggravating the symptoms.
- Dehydration can occur easily in patients with ongoing problems with diarrhoea. An electrolyte replacement drink is a fast and effective way to replace lost mineral salts and avoid dehydration.
- Loss of water soluble nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin c may also occur with frequent diarrhoea.
A high-protein, low-fat diet is recommended to provide adequate intake of energy and to maintain the body’s healing capacity. Refined sugar, caffeine and very high fibre diets may contribute to a worsening of the condition and should be eliminated from the diet.
Smoking should also be avoided.
During periods when the disease is active, try to drink plenty of water. This is a good way to get large quantities of nutrients in an easily absorbed form. The juice of raw cabbage, taken several times per day has also been associated with improved healing of ulcerated digestive tissue.
Eliminate all foods that cause a worsening of the symptoms. The most common culprits are wheat, dairy foods (especially ice cream), spicy foods and fried foods.
You may need to keep a diet and symptom diary for a period of several weeks in order to pinpoint which foods (if any) are responsible.
Crohn’s disease is very closely linked to another condition, known as ulcerative colitis.
The difference is that where ulcerative colitis affects the two top layers of the intestine (the mucosa and submucosa), Crohn’s disease penetrates further below the surface to the muscles and the connective tissue beneath them. The symptoms and treatment of the two conditions are almost identical.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are both very serious conditions which require professional treatment – consult your healthcare professional for further investigation if you suffer from the symptoms listed above.