This blog was originally published by Dr. Jill Carnahan.
When you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) it can feel like your life is on hold. Debilitating pain, frequent trips to the bathroom, and extreme weakness makes getting through the day next to impossible. To make matters worse, your doctor may end up prescribing you steroids and immune-suppressing medications that don’t really help you get your life back and have a serious list of side effects.
I’m here to tell you it’s possible to alleviate symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis and it doesn’t always have to take dangerous medications. You can do so with a change in diet or by consuming healing nutraceuticals.. The change in diet is necessary to bring down the inflammation and support your microbiome. Herbal or vitamin therapy can be added to speed up the healing process and get you back on your feet more quickly.
When I cured my Crohn’s disease over 10 years ago, I did so through a complete diet overhaul and using herbal supplements to treat dysbiosis in the microbiome. Now, I want to share with you what you can do to find the same relief.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
The gut is the gatekeeper of our immune system, and therefore our health. When the gut is off balance due to microbial imbalance or other issues it can cause serious, even life-threatening conditions.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a term for chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, due in part to aggressive T-cell mediated cytokine response to certain gut bacteria. IBD is considered an umbrella term for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
In Crohn’s disease the macrophages of the immune system don’t recognize which bacteria is good or bad, and attacks the beneficial bacteria that live on your stomach lining. There are also specific microbes that have been identified in triggering Crohn’s – this is good news because it’s another step closer to clearer diagnostics. You can read more about that in my article: 3 Surprising Microbial Triggers of Crohn’s Disease.
With ulcerative colitis, inflammation occurs only in the distal colon and can cause ulcers. Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause painful symptoms, which include:
- Abdominal pain
- Cyclical fevers
- Extreme weakness
- Weight loss
- Bloody stool
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should make an appointment with a doctor who has experience in IBD. Though it’s rare, in some cases IBD can be dangerous and the earlier you catch it the easier it will be to treat it. Some patients disease gets so severe they have to have parts of the colon removed.
The IBD Diet
If you’ve been diagnosed with IBD, changing your diet should be the first course of action you take. By avoiding foods that cause intestinal inflammation you can reduce painful symptoms. You should also add foods that reduce inflammation to help further soothe your condition. Though it doesn’t help to do just one or the other, you need to both avoid harmful foods, add supporting foods, and also use herbal supplements.
When it comes to eating with IBD I’ve found that either the SCD or the Elemental diet work best. For patients who are in serious pain, I usually recommend the Elemental diet. For those who need a more long term management solution, I find the SCD works best.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is powerful and capable in making changes in the gut microbiota diet in as little as two weeks. Through eliminating grains, sugars, starches, and unprocessed foods, you control what your gut microbiota has access to, which starves the harmful bacteria. The SCD is considered a gut reboot and can help those even with more mild gut conditions. With IBD, the SCD has been shown to positively influence the predominant Firmicutes and Bacteroides bacterium.
Food you can have on SCD include:
- Grass-fed beef
- Lactose-free dairy
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Ripe fruit
Foods you’ll want to avoid include:
- Starchy vegetables
- Some beans
- Artificial sweeteners
The Elemental diet is a strict diet that starves the bacteria through meal replacements. The Elemental diet is very effective with IBD but isn’t a diet someone can maintain permanently because the meal replacements are powdered nutrient drinks, which lack sufficient nutrients. That being said, the Elemental diet will significantly reduce the harmful bacteria and inflammation. The Elemental diet meal replacements can be Physicians’ Elemental Diet by Integrative Therapeutics or Vivonex by Nestle.
When you’re suffering from IBD eating can feel unbearable but changing the makeup of your microbiota through your diet is key to finding relief in remission.
Herbal therapy for IBD
Herbal therapy can help the process of healing go more smoothly and more quickly. Supplements that work best are therapeutic through antioxidant activity, immune regulation, and their anti-inflammatory effects.
A 2015 report on herbal therapy in patients with IBD found that certain herbal remedies were specifically beneficial to Crohn’s disease, such as:
- Mastic gum – Well known for its positive effect on the gut, mastic gum has been used medicinally since ancient times.
- Tripterygium wilfordii – Sometimes called, ‘thunder god vine,’ this effective herb has been used to fight inflammation and autoimmune disease, making it an excellent fit for IBD.
- Artemisia absinthium – Also known as, ‘wormwood’ or ‘absinthe,’ in the readily available form won’t cause hallucinations.
- Berberine – also has anti-inflammatory activity in colitis.
Herbal supplements that are effective in ulcerative colitis, include:
- Aloe vera gel – Though most think of this as a topical treatment, eating aloe vera is great for the soothing the gut, especially in IBD patients.
- Triticum aestivum – Also known as ‘wheat grass juice,’ research has found this to be an effective treatment for IBD.
- Andrographis paniculata extract – This herb is powerful against IBD and other conditions such as malaria and parasites.
- Topical Xilei-san – Studies have found topical Xilei san to be significant and safe in treating ulcerative colitis.
These herbal therapies were not only effective in soothing symptoms, they actually helped put the condition into remission. In the case of the Crohn’s disease, those herbal therapies were found to be effective through inhibition of leukotriene B4 and nuclear factor- kappa B.
Though it’s not an herb, I want to mention vitamin D supplementation because low levels have been linked to a higher risk of IBD. Studies repeatedly find low vitamin D levels in patients with IBD and it’s been considered a risk factor for Crohn’s disease since the 1980’s. Make sure you’re getting enough sun and taking 5,000 IU of a vitamin D3 supplement with vitamin K2.
And of course don’t forget probiotics!
Probiotics are essential to any gut healing protocol, but with IBD there are specific factors that make certain probiotics especially helpful. VSL#3 is one of my main recommendations for anyone with IBD because it is very potent and carries the most beneficial strains. One study found that patients who took VSL#3 probiotics for six weeks had a remission/response rate of 77 percent. Other probiotics recommendations I make to those with IBD include:
- High dose multistrain
- Probiotic E. coli strain Nissle 1917
- Lactobacillus GG
- Spore-forming probiotics
- Saccharomyces Boulardii
Environmental triggers of IBD
Environmental triggers are another consideration you should take seriously to get your IBD under control. The following are known triggers of IBD:
You Can Cure Your IBD
The good news about inflammatory bowel disease is that you can reverse the illness with the right diet and lifestyle changes. If I can do it, you can do it. Take each step a one at a time, and before you know it you’ll have your condition under control.
I know what it feels like to struggle with IBD, which is why I’ll continue supplying you with helpful information like this – so you can get your life back.
If you want to read more, check out my other article on microbial triggers to IBD.