Crohn's disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It usually affects the intestines, but may occur anywhere from the mouth to the end of the rectum (anus).
While the exact cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, the condition is thought to be linked to a problem with the body's immune system response. The body fights against itself producing inflammation and pain, it might overreact to “friendly” bacteria in the gut.
Crohn's disease may occur in any area of the digestive tract. There will be healthy areas of tissue between diseased areas and times when it flares up. The inflammation causes the intestinal wall to become thick, if the wall becomes too thick it could cause a blockage. Problems with the walls of the intestines can lead to poor absorption of nutrients and sufferers may also have problems associated with vitamin or mineral deficiency. Examples are anaemia from lack of iron and blood loss and osteoporosis from lack of calcium and vitamin D. Some medications prescribed for Chron’s disease may interfere with the uptake of nutrients as well.
There are different types of Crohn's disease, depending on the part of the gastrointestinal tract that is affected. Crohn's disease may involve the small intestine, the large intestine, the rectum, or the mouth. The most common part of the GI tract affected is the lower part of the small bowel known as the ileum.
The disease may occur at any age, but it usually starts in people between ages 15 - 35. Risk factors include smoking, Jewish ancestry, European (particularly Scandinavian) ancestry, living in an industrialised country, a diet rich in processed foods or a family history of Chron’s disease.
Symptoms include fever, tiredness, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, pain when passing stools, diarrhoea and weight loss. It can be serious and involve ulceration and bleeding that requires surgery.
Where Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) looked at it my previous article does not cause any damage to the structure of the GI tract, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) which includes Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease does cause problems.
In the diet possible food allergens can be avoided such as wheat, dairy, spicy food, citrus fruits, tomatoes, alcohol and coffee so as not to aggravate symptoms. Some food is said to help healing, bromelain from pineapple helps inflammation and healing.
Being stressed and tired may trigger symptoms, adequate sleep, exercise and relaxation can help.
If there is blood in the stool, a change in bowel habit lasting more than 10 days or symptoms that do not improve with treatment a doctor needs to be consulted.
Herbs to Help Crohn’s Disease
Some articles suggest herbs that help the immune system such as Echinacea might help but my mentor, Sarah has said in the past that it is not a good idea to boost the immune system in auto-immune diseases as it is attacking the body which we do not want to encourage.
My thoughts are that herbs to help would be anti-inflammatory and analgesic, assist with stress and relaxation, relieve bloating and regulate bowel movements and contain vitamins and minerals to try and supplement poor absorption.
Chamomile is a mild sedative and has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and carminative properties that help digestion and soothes and heals the mucous membrane of the digestive tract. It helps with wind, discomfort and stress.
Dandelion is a bitter which helps with the digestive system, it contains vitamins A, B, C, D (the vitamin A content being higher than that of carrots) with minerals potassium and iron which could help to try and boost depleted vitamin and mineral absorption.
Fennel has a calming effect on the stomach and is one of the most effective remedies for relieving wind pain and reducing flatulence.
Frankincense is anti-inflammatory and can reduce pain and inflammation. Studies have been done on Boswellia serrate, an Indian frankincense,” the boswellic acids inhibit the enzyme 5-lipoxygenase which is responsible for the production of leukotrienes. Since the inflammatory process in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is associated with increased function of leukotrienes, the benefits of Boswellia in the treatment of both chronic colitis (ulcerative colitis) and Crohn's disease have been recently investigated” http://www.crohns.net/Miva/education/articles/Crohns_Colitis_Bone_Phytotherapy.shtml
Garlic can be used to control the symptoms and complications of Crohn’s disease, and should be used regularly for several weeks. If the inflammation of the intestinal tract lining is caused by bacteria, fungus, or other infections, garlic can heal those infections and kill the harmful bacteria in the system.
Hops reduce tension and anxiety. They help calm the nerves, promote sleep and bolster the intestinal tracts and stomach against attacks triggered by emotional states.
Lemon Balm reduces wind and bloating. Lemon balm is also effective in alleviating anxiety, tension, nervousness and mild insomnia.
Liquorice has a soothing effect on the intestinal wall.
Marshmallow soothes the lining of the intestines and helps to regulate the bowels, it is a demulcent and emollient (a substance that soothes mucous membranes).
Meadowsweet reduces acidity in the stomach and has an anti-inflammatory action on the intestines which helps with pain.
Nettles are full of vitamins and minerals and can be added to the diet as in soup or drunk as a tea to boost depleted levels. Nettles contain iron, silica, potassium, manganese, sulphur, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Passion Flower reduces tension and anxiety.
Peppermint contains the essential oil menthol which, when ingested produces powerful antispasmodic effects that directly soothe the muscles in the digestive system, aiding in digestion. Peppermint tea has a calming aroma which can help relax nerves and subdue a nervous stomach. Peppermint tea also helps with wind pain, abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements.
Skullcap reduces tension and anxiety.
Slippery Elm is a demulcent (a substance that protects irritated tissues and promotes their healing) it soothes the lining of the intestine and helps to regulate the bowels.
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and can reduce pain and inflammation, use it in your cooking.
Wild Oats reduce tension and anxiety.
Yarrow can help to treat gastrointestinal problems. The plant contains flavonoids, which are chemicals that can increase secretions of saliva, bile and other stomach acids in the GI tract. The flavonoids and other chemical components in yarrow can also decrease spasms in the smooth muscles, which can ease stomach cramps. Yarrow's volatile oil contains alkamides that have shown anti-inflammatory actions.